Written on August 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
“Back to school” is about getting back into the groove of a more structured life. It’s about buying supplies in time—not for the first day of classes but before they’re out of stock. It’s about what teachers your kid got and if they’re loved or hated.
But guess what it’s also about for a lot of kids? Crushes. The horribly awesome, terrifying, nerve-racking experience of seeing someone for the first time and falling for them hard. It could be their hair, the way they say hello, their cool red jacket, whatever—doesn’t matter. In an instant, the world will never be the same. And even if they don’t have a crush on someone, chances are good they’re going to have a friend who does and that will upend their world too.
Being aware of crushes falls into the parenting gray zone. You don’t want to stalk the school hallways or wait for your child to come home and immediately ask them about their or anyone else’s love life. Really…you don’t. Even though you may want to. But you do need to be aware of crushes as the possible source of your child’s weird mood swings. Or the potential reason behind a sudden increase in the amount of time spent texting. (They’re discussing with a friend exactly how the crush said “Hi” or how the crush affects social dynamics between your child and his or her friends.)
It’s really important to remember that crushes and puppy love aren’t insignificant. Just because kids are only holding hands or simply staring at each other doesn’t mean the feelings they have are meaningless. Take a minute to remember your first crush and how you felt around that person. See? Not meaningless. So don’t say things in front of your child about how fleeting crushes are or how they don’t really matter.
And just because I said no stalking, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your child. Sometime when it’s calm and quiet, like at the end of the day, you can say something like this.
YOU: Now that you’re in sixth grade, you might notice that people can get crushes on each other or really like each other.
YOUR KID: Mom…I really don’t want to talk about this.
YOU: This is going to be brief but it’s important to me that you hear this. Having a crush can feel great. It can also feel terrible. And it can feel both at the same time. Sometimes friends can get involved and make the whole thing even weirder. Feelings can be confusing. You don’t have to talk to me about any of this but you can if you want. Regardless, here are four things I want you to keep in mind.
1. Friends shouldn’t be mean to you or deliberately embarrass you about your crush. If your friend has a crush, the same rules apply about what you say to them.
2. If you have a crush and you get rejected it’s not going to be easy, but you can’t be rude or mean in person or online. If your friend has a crush and they get rejected, I don’t want you to join in if they start going after the person either.
3. Friends don’t have to agree with why the crush is so crush-worthy. If your friend thinks that the crush isn’t cute, that’s okay. Friends can disagree. What’s not cool is if a friend makes fun of liking the crush or embarrasses you in front of other people.
4. Sometimes friends, even really close friends, can have a crush on the same person. Covert operations to make the competition look bad almost always backfire and destroy the friendship.
Remember, these experiences are important, so if you ever do want to talk about it, I hope you can talk to me or someone else about them. Okay, I’m done unless there’s anything you want to ask.
Then don’t wait around with an intense mom or dad expression on your face that signals to your child that you expect to have a deep, meaningful conversation. Just walk away. I promise that if you do, they are much more likely to come to you when they want to get something off their chest.
On the flip side, if your child is the loved one, it can feel great—or really awkward, depending on how they feel about the person who likes them. What’s most important: no humiliating the other person if they don’t like them.
And I have one pet peeve: If your child tells you that a kid of the opposite sex hits them at school or teases them, please don’t say with a grin on your face, “I think they like you.” And definitely don’t say, “You know why they’re probably doing that? Because they have a crush on you!” (See my previous post, “7 Words You Shouldn’t Say to Your Kid.”)
We don’t want to teach our children that an acceptable way to show you like someone is to be mean to them. Plus, we weren’t there. Maybe the other child doesn’t like your kid and now you’re enabling your kid to read the situation wrong. Maybe other children were teasing the child about liking your son or daughter, so they felt forced to be mean to them to make the matchmaking and teasing stop. If our children tell us these things, we can say:
That’s too bad. Maybe I can ask you some questions to help you think it through. Did it feel playful or mean? Did they do it around other people?
Let’s use this as an opportunity to teach our kids how to tell when someone likes them, how to be respectful when the feelings aren’t mutual, and how to be a good friend through it all. Handling all this is tricky stuff. We have to be ready to ask thoughtful questions so our kids can navigate this really rocky terrain—and then do their homework, their sports activities, their chores…It’s a lot.