C. came home from school and announced he was in love.
Her name was Sarah (names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent), and she was “beautiful.”
My baby boy had his first crush. Over the course of the next few days we listened as the Elementary School Soap Opera unfolded: Sarah became Ben’s girlfriend. Sarah wasn’t Ben’s girlfriend anymore because she didn’t want to sit with him at lunch. Sarah didn’t want to be C.’s girlfriend because she wanted to play with her friends. C. was now Jenny’s boyfriend because Jenny told him he had to be.
“But I am NOT going to marry her,” C. proclaimed.
Since being boyfriend and girlfriend in first grade seemed to mainly consist of sitting next to each other on the reading rug or playing on the monkey bars together at recess, MJ and I happily assumed it was harmless. Until the day C. came home and was visibly upset. He put his head in his arms and cried,
“Why doesn’t she like me, Mom?”
My heart broke for him. I don’t know how I could have taken his feelings so lightly. He was feeling rejected and, well, crushed.
I remember the feeling. After all these years I remember my first crush. Even in Kindergarten, Matty had all the girls melting in their leg warmers. With his dimpled chin and sparkling smile he ruled the playground. He excelled at every sport, was super smart, and he led the Safety Patrol. I would pray silently to be paired up with him during our P.E. square dancing lessons so that I might get a chance to hold his hand (Since I was one of the tallest girls in our class, I would almost always get stuck partnering with Libby, the only girl taller than me. But a girl can still dream.).
It was my friend April who ended up delivering the crushing blow. She happened to be Matty’s cousin and it was on a visit to their grandmother’s house that my name was brought up. I wanted to know everything.
“He said you were pretty, but you had a really big mouth.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that accusation and it most certainly wouldn’t be the last. But at that moment, I could actually feel my heart crack a little. My heart went out to C. who sat at our kitchen table feeling rejected.
I felt helpless to do anything about the heartbreak my son was feeling. If you’ve been in my place, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to the party, allow me to impart a few tips:
- Don’t devalue their feelings. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing some pretty intense emotions. Don’t tell them they don’t know what love is. Respect their feelings.
- But don’t encourage them either. I knew 7-year-old boys who bought their girlfriends bracelets or earrings for Christmas, with help from mom and dad, of course. Making a homemade Valentine card is, perhaps, a little more age appropriate. We don’t want to encourage “sugar daddy” behavior this early on. Tacky, and a little creepy.
- Don’t be too nosey. If you begin to ask too many questions there’s a good chance your child will clam up and be reluctant to tell you anything again.
- Don’t tease. Don’t make kissy faces or tell your friends and family in front of your child that they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s demeaning and insensitive at any age.
- Always be willing to just listen. Be available, without distractions, to lend a shoulder and an ear. Your kids are not always looking for advice. Sometimes they just need to talk without an adult telling them what to do.
They call it a crush for obvious reasons. Someone is most definitely going to get clobbered. But the way you handle your child’s first crush may help build the foundation for open communication as they get older…and things really get hairy.