When your young daughter tugs on your sleeve and shyly confesses her first crush, how will you respond?
If you are like most Catholic parents, you may be caught by surprise. Indeed, you might say or do something you’ll regret later. Instead, psychologist Cynthia Langtiw advises, resist the urge to avoid the subject. Don’t try to eke out every detail from your child, either.
“Don’t push, but start with general questions and follow your child’s lead,” recommends Langtiw, assistant professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, in Parents magazine. Try not to chuckle at your child’s feelings and avoid dismissing them, because you will want him to feel comfortable opening up to you, she suggests.
“We use the term ‘crush’ to describe a child’s special feelings for another person outside the home,” writes Susan Magsamen, an award-winning writer and learning expert, in Working Mother magazine. “It could be a teacher, classmate or friend. Kids often have a sense that this other person is relatable and shares the same interests—and most of all, that they like them a lot!”
Magsamen notes that parents must understand and acknowledge that there are biological forces at play when it comes to crushes. “There are chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which contribute to the creation of romantic love,” she says. “Each of these chemicals creates its own magic, like feelings of euphoria, sleeplessness or even increased energy, focus and passion. The symptoms of crushes range from being tongue-tied to having sweating palms and a racing heart.”
Catholic author Courtney Kissinger, writing on the Lifeteen website, tells her readers that having a crush on someone is totally normal. “There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to someone else, and it’s good to be drawn to those good characteristics that we notice in them,” Kissinger writes. “We’re designed to interact and form relationships with other people. As we spend time with others, it’s totally normal to find ourselves ‘crushing’ on someone because we think he’s really funny or cute or sweet or witty or holy or, worst of all, all of the above!”
One thing parents can do, she counsels, is to help children put their crushes into perspective by asking them these questions about their crush.
- What attracts you to this person? Are you attracted to his kindness, his character, his love for God and others? Stop and ask yourself if the qualities you find yourself attracted to are the ones you hope to find in your future spouse.
- How old is the person? Crushing on the guy who sits in front of you in chemistry class is very different than crushing on the married man who teaches your chemistry class.
- How much of your day is spent thinking about this person? You don’t need to waste your time analyzing the look he gave you in the hallway or his latest tweet.
- Have you considered the fact that he may not be the one for you? Don’t invest your heart and mind in an imaginary relationship with someone who doesn’t even know you exist.
Early infatuations usually don’t last long – and most kids get over them quickly, notes Kristin Lagattuta, associate professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of California, Davis. It’s also helpful for parents to mention their experiences from childhood so their child realizes that what she’s going through is perfectly normal, she adds.
“When we notice something attractive in another person, we’re seeing one of the ways God has blessed that person,” Kissinger writes. “Be grateful to God for the ability to see goodness in that person and pray for the grace to see God’s goodness in everyone.”