Do you remember your very first crush? While it may seem silly now, in the moment, it was a really big deal. For parents, witnessing their children experience those feelings for the first time can cause a whirlwind of emotions.
Jay Pigott, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker at Wolfson Children's Center for Behavioral Health with significant mental health experience working with adolescents and adults. Pigott shared a few insights and tips to help parents navigate their child's first crush feelings.
Notice the signs
We all remember what it felt like to be around or even talk about our crush. Burning cheeks, squirrelly stomach and sweaty hands were run of the mill. Pigott explained that based on a child's age, there are a few common signs they may exhibit.
"It is common for younger children to bring it up in a more direct manner, and as children age, they become more private with that information. It's important to keep those lines of communication open at every age," Pigott said.
Experts say children typically experience their first crush around five or six years, although it can happen at any age.
"Children have developed the concept of affection at this age by watching their parents and begin attributing those feelings of personal closeness to their peers," Pigott explained. "You might notice them being giggly about a friend or classmate and blushing when their crush is brought up. Or they may become embarrassed at the slightest mention of the object of their affection."
"For young teens in middle school, it's not uncommon for them to suddenly take on new interests, hobbies and musical choices. They may even choose to dress up for school instead of wearing their usual, casual clothes," Pigott added "You'll most likely still notice some childlike wonderment when their crush is brought up."
Play it cool
After learning about your child's crush, it can be tempting to want in on all the details. Pigott suggested a few guidelines for parents to follow after learning the big news.
"They should approach with curiosity without being pushy or judgmental. Once a child feels judged or made fun of, the lines of communication about relationships can be easily closed," Pigott said.
For many parents, learning their child is attracted to someone of the same sex can take time to process. Pigott relayed that regardless of the crush's gender, parents should approach their child with compassion and remain uncritical.
"It is very common for children of all ages to experience attractions to people of the same sex," Pigott said. "As our culture and society begin to talk more about sexual orientation and gender identity, children begin feeling more comfortable disclosing same-sex attractions."
They added, "Parents should first normalize same-sex attractions to their child. Creating a safe haven allows them to feel safe in their own home and gives them permission to be themselves. Most importantly, always tell your child you love them in very deliberate and direct ways. Remind them your love is unconditional and you will support them through anything."
Pigott encourages parents to normalize the feelings their children have for their love interests. Even if you think the crush or relationship is likely to be very short-lived, make sure to respect your child's feelings and be gentle and patient with them.
Their feelings are real
What your child is feeling is valid. It's important to recognize and respect their feelings while helping them establish limits.
"Observe your child and set boundaries that don't crush their spirit but help them balance their social life and responsibilities," Pigott recommended. "Take this opportunity to teach your child how to develop and set healthy relationship boundaries with others."
Also part of navigating your child's first crush means being there when feelings aren't reciprocated.
"Unrequited love is often a very painful experience. Validate that what they are feeling is real without pushing them to keep talking about it," Pigott said. "You can encourage them to spend time with their friends and engage in activities they enjoy. It can be helpful to ask them what they liked about that person and ask them to identify what other peers have some of the same qualities. They'll start making connections and building skills to identify what they are looking for in future romantic relationships."
There's no perfect way to parent. If it's time for you or your child to get professional help, Baptist Behavioral Health and Wolfson Children's Behavioral Health are here for you. Call 904.376.3800 to schedule with a provider.