“I think you need to stay focused on schoolwork instead of a crush.” I said. I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation with my second-grader. I knew that this type of talk would come up sooner or later, and imagined it going completely differently. Quite frankly, it really caught me off guard. I immediately reverted to the tough disciplinarian and was right on the edge of outlawing “crush talk” in our house altogether until I had a change of heart. I have a crush myself, and have since the moment I first saw my wife. So, I know how it feels. The butterflies, the excitement, the lov…well, she isn’t in love quite yet, but you get the idea. Of course at this age it’s relatively harmless for my daughter to have a crush, I can’t help but want to protect her from, well, all boys on the face of the planet. I know they will just make things more complicated for her, after all I once was a boy myself.
Fortunately my daughter has a pretty healthy example of what love is like. Our family spends most of our weekends together and we really enjoy each other’s company. Each morning and each night both, are ended with marathon hug sessions, and for that I feel like my daughter has a healthy understanding of what love can really be. What I wanted to know is how to handle this appropriately as a Dad, is it too soon, what do I do? How do I explain to her that the boys are trouble and she should hold out as long as she can?
According to many experts, developmentally she is right on point. I can hardly remember second grade myself, but it seems about right. For second graders, around ages 7 to 9, talking about her crush help them develop their sense of self and is perfectly age appropriate. She is asserting her independence and trying to do things on her own. Children can navigate this milestone in various ways. Sometimes they do it through school work as it is a huge part of their life, but the other way they do it is in the relationships with their peers. For my daughter to have a crush and want to put herself out there, is an indication that she is trying to assert her independence, grow and expand her sense of self.
I was able to breathe a little easier knowing that for this age group, it is pretty developmentally appropriate. Having a crush in this age group is usually nothing more then giggling with her friends, passing notes, and dreaming of riding a pony off into the sunset. It’s less about the actual person they have a crush on, and more about trying to form her sense of self and start making choices on her own. My daughters actions show that she is looking at other people and choosing to like them because of their differences, similarities, likes and dislikes and that can help her later in life when making much bigger and important decisions.
This really opens a great opportunity to keep your line of communication thriving with your child. Instead of condemning them, perhaps engage them with questions about the qualities they like or dislike about their crush. Rest assured, you, as a father set the standard and example and aren’t being replaced, at least not yet! I’m kidding! When your daughter decides that she wants to be friends, or have a crush on a boy, they look around them to see how others navigate that experience. If she sees Dad take Mom out for dinner, or bring her flowers, or tell her she is beautiful, she gets a social reference of what she would like, or expect from a future boyfriend when things get more serious. She realizes that when a boy likes a girl that these are the things he needs to do to show it.
There is some pretty interesting research that shows that children during this period, the ones who show the initiative and try and do things for themselves tend to do that as adults as well, and are more successful overall in life. Instead of embarrassing my daughter, I can be proud that she puts herself out there, even if she doesn’t fully understand what having a boyfriend means yet. When she puts herself out there, center stage, and her crush responds positively, even if that means just playing together on the playground, she learns that when she takes a chance it pays off. It’s positive reinforcement.
In closing, rest assured that having a crush is pretty normal, and the more mature aspects are not even in the equation yet. Children don’t fully understand yet the more mature side of having a boyfriend, so it really is not only appropriate but healthy developmentally. Certainly it’s up to you to set up boundaries, and share your ideas about what is appropriate or not. For example, I let my daughter know that she didn’t have to buy “Pokémon cards” for her crush, and that she shouldn’t do it at all. It’s better off to just enjoy each other’s company, and that’s how you know it’s a great friendship. After all her mother and I enjoy each other’s company almost every day, and I have had a crush on her for quite some time.