You knew this day would come, but you had no idea how soon. Now suddenly, the girl who’s never needed more than her family, her friends, and maybe the snuggles of a favorite pet is streaming sappy pop songs, wandering about with a silly grin on her face, and writing mysterious initials on her book covers/the back of her hand/any available surface.
It’s time to come to terms with reality: your daughter probably has a crush. Now, crushes are called as such for a reason. As much as they can make a person feel happy, they can also leave one feeling rather dramatically destroyed by the world. So, as her parent, you’ll need to approach dealing with her first crush with caution; empathy; and, as always, love. Lots and lots of love! Here’s how you might navigate some trickier aspects of her first brush with puppy love. The issue: You think she’s too young to be in love or dating. Reality check: While it can be jarring to think of your girl having romantic feelings, remember that having a crush does not mean the same thing as dating or even being in love—even if she insists she feels that way. Crushes are often rooted in infatuation and go no further than a bit of daydreaming and doodling. Actual dating rarely comes with crushes. Plus, forbidding her to have a crush may only deepen her feelings—after all, so often when young people are told they can’t have or do something, they want to all the more. Try this: If she’s been inking initials or someone’s name on everything in sight, take the time (when it’s just the two of you—you don’t want to embarrass her!) to ask who this special someone is and figure out why she likes them. And even if she says they’re “dating” or “going out,” there may not be any cause for alarm. Ask what those terms mean to her. To many young girls, dating or going out might just mean that they sit together at lunch—or perhaps that they like each other, everyone knows it, and they text! A little fact-finding can go a long way to soothe your nerves and open lines of communication. This way, when she does start dating in a more meaningful way in the years to come, she’ll already know she can trust and turn to you.
The issue: You don’t approve of the person she’s crushing on. Reality check: Most crushes, especially at this age, are fleeting, so there’s almost no chance of this person being in her life for the long haul. But beyond that, you might want to take a step back and make sure you aren’t assuming things about her crush based on how they look, what part of town they live in, or something else that likely has nothing to do with why your daughter likes them.
Try this: Ask your girl what it is she likes or admires about this person. If she focuses on appearances first—spoiler alert, she probably thinks her crush has great hair—go deeper, and ask her if they’re kind to others or if they share any particular interests with her. This is a good opportunity for you to talk about what makes a person worthy of attention and admiration over some of the more superficial qualities she might be focused on. If there are more serious concerns about this person, like an inappropriate age difference, known behavioral problems, or something else, bring them up gently, and ask her how she feels about those things. Hearing her out and having a conversation with her (even if you know you’re eventually going to have to flat-out tell her this person isn’t worthy of her affections) will help her feel respected; heard; and, most of all, that you really care and aren’t just saying “no” to be mean.
The issue: Her crush doesn’t like her back. Reality check: The sight of your daughter crying into her cereal bowl over some acne-ridden kid may seem ridiculous to you—not to mention a waste of her precious time and energy—but to her, this is anything but silly. Think back to your early crushes and how, even if they didn’t last long, it felt like the sun rose and set by that person’s existence in your life. Your daughter likely feels that way right now. Try this: Instead of telling her to “get over it” or that her crush wasn’t so great anyway, find a quiet moment to ask her how she’s feeling, then actually listen. She’s been rejected by someone she really likes (even if you don’t think they’re great shakes!), and she’s probably hurting. Be there for her, and try to find things to do together that will brighten her day. Maybe you can plan some time to watch a favorite movie or schedule a night when her best girl friends can come for a sleepover party. Over time, she’ll almost definitely start to feel better, and your bond will be stronger than ever.