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It’s likely you can name that first boy who you thought hung the moon. He had deep brown eyes or the latest hairstyle and stole your heart right away. Whether it was in 4th grade or junior high, the feelings of that crush were real and may have led you through an emotional roller coaster.
If your daughter is starry-eyed for the first time, it’s important for parents to recognize her feelings without downplaying the crush. Help your daughter through this crucial moment in her life by discussing these affairs of the heart at her pace.
Dish the Details
You and your daughter can dish about clothes, makeup and reality shows all day long, but your daughter may be reluctant to talk about boys when her first crush happens. “Parents would do well to discuss crushes with their daughters long before the first crush ever occurs,” says JeaNette Goates Smith, Florida-based marriage and family therapist. “When emotions take over, reason often vanishes.”
Lightly bring up the topic of boys when you suspect that your daughter may be experiencing butterflies in her stomach every time she sees that someone special. “We need to warn our girls that a crush is natural because, after all, boys are so cute,” says Smith. However, Smith warns that girls often focus obsessively on the object of their affection by doodling his name, searching for him on social media and asking her friends what he is like. “Because young girls are so innocent and so trusting, they can be easily hurt,” she says. This is where a chat with mom can help her separate fantasy from reality. Share your experiences with your first crush or ask what it is about the boy that she likes. The more you open up, the more likely your daughter will feel as though she can talk with you about her crush.
Catching a boy’s eye can send your daughter through a wave of emotions—from giddy and gleeful to sullen and sad. “Kids can tend to feel things very intensely,” says Jamie Rishikof, a psychologist in Massachusetts. “They lack the life experience that can provide a sense of perspective and relativity.”
Even though you may be sharing your experiences with a crush, know that your daughter may not always believe that you have more perspective or wisdom to understand a crush. If your daughter doesn’t want to hear about how Bobby Simpson stole your heart in 7th grade, then step back and understand that she needs to own her feelings right now. Recognize and reassure your child that what she is feeling is valid and that, in a day or even a few hours, it’s OK if her feelings change.
Lend an Ear
Listening is not overrated when it comes to parenting a daughter with her first crush. When you’re tempted to call her crush “cute” or even minimize her feelings by telling her it won’t last, stop and listen instead. “Her feelings are very real to her,” says Rishikof. “If she does not bring it up, do not call her on it and never mention it to third parties, especially in front of her.” Even gentle teasing may be embarrassing and painful for her.
In the meantime, if your daughter solicits your advice, you can offer suggestions, but try not to overpower the situation. “If she doesn’t ask, I would suggest not offering unsolicited advice,” says Rishikof. “She may need to learn the hard way, and you can be there for her if things turn bad, having taught her that you are there to listen and you will not judge.”
As much as you want to protect your daughter from experiencing heartbreak, it’s nearly inevitable that her first crush will not lead to a lifelong relationship. “It’s very tempting to try to step in and protect her from herself, but you can inadvertently do more harm than good, as she may see your actions as invasive, controlling and indifferent to her feelings,” says Rishikof.
In the end, your daughter has to learn how to pick up the pieces while knowing that mom is there to support her, listen and validate her feelings. “A crush can be powerful, even for a young person—especially for a young person—who loves so purely, without reservation,” says Smith. Knowing that mom is by her side for support, through the giddy moments and the aftermath of heartbreak, will only create a stronger bond between the two of you.