When Your School Age Child Has a Crush
Sure, it's cute when your 4-year-old introduces you to her boyfriend at preschool, but should you be concerned about what it means to her?
Virtually from birth, children are exposed to ideas and images related to having a partner. At a very basic level, having a partner is modeled by parents, grandparents, and other family members. Classic children's stories and movies have storylines about finding "true love." In the "Lion King," Simba falls in love with Nala, and in many fairytales, a princess finds her prince. Even Harry Potter and company are not immune from crushes and dating. It's no wonder that kids imitate what they see.
According to Dr. Karen Komosa-Hawkins, a professor of school counseling at Loyola Marymount University, it's important to take into account your child's emotional and cognitive developmental level and the nature of the relationship. In first or second grade, a boyfriend or girlfriend might be someone that your child seeks out to play with or brings an extra cookie for at lunch. In fourth or fifth grade, it might be someone your child talks to before or after school or sits next to at an assembly. In sixth or seventh grade, a boyfriend or girlfriend might take on a more traditional role with dates to the school dance or group dates to the movies.
Having a girlfriend or boyfriend at an early age is not necessarily a good or bad thing. What is important is the meaning that your child attaches to it. Talk to your children about what having a boyfriend or girlfriend means to them. Is your son's girlfriend simply a person he likes or is it something more than that? As your children get into fifth and sixth grade, the conversation should include questions about physical contact such as holding hands or kissing.
It's OK to set limits about boyfriends, girlfriends, and dating. Just make sure that you communicate your rules in a way that allows for back and forth conversation. It's these conversations that set the stage for future communications around relationships and sex.