When your toddler tells you that he is in love, it probably won’t seem all that serious at first. You might have the urge to laugh or to dismiss the crush as being silly and inappropriate for a four-year-old. Or you may totally boost it up and tell all your family and friends about your child’s new crush. There are lots of different ways to handle young love, but some responses can cause more harm than good. So what is the best way to respond to your child’s first love?
A friend of mine recently shared that her Preschooler has a “boyfriend.” Her daughter is three years old so her announcement took my friend by surprise. My friend shared that she was as validating toward her daughter’s feelings as possible but she admitted that she wasn’t completely sure how she should handle it. Later on that night, I thought back to my own kids’ first crushes and realized that they happened at around the same age. So it got me thinking about how young children experience love.
Most child experts say that it’s developmentally normal for children to experience their first love at a young age. This usually occurs around the time that they start to be more aware of people other than their family. Around this time, they are also beginning to demonstrate the relationships that are modeled to them by their parents and other adult caretakers during their pretend play.
Some parents laugh at their children and downplay their young crushes. I absolutely don’t agree with that. Although first love doesn’t typically last very long and isn't like adult relationships, the feelings that kids experience are quite real to them and should be respected. And then there are other parents who fail to set boundaries, and of course that can lead to other problems. After all, 3/4-year-olds shouldn’t be overly affectionate with other kids, regardless of how innocent it may be. So, what is a good balance? Here is what you should do to help your young child through her first crush.
KNOW WHAT YOUNG LOVE LOOKS LIKE
Your little one may not be able to tell you directly that he has a crush on a little girl. Instead, he may try to hold her hand or kiss her when she is around. He probably always wants to play with her and says all the time that he “loves” her or that she is his “girlfriend.” These are usually good indicators that your toddler is feeling a lot of affection for another child.
VALIDATE YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS
Once you are aware that your child is in love, then you want to validate her feelings. Of course this is not the same kind of experience that adults or even older children experience. In fact, it’s probably not even really a “romantic” feeling at all. To her it probably feels more like an attachment similar to the way that she is attached to her family and other friends. Nonetheless, to your toddler, it is very serious and it’s important not to downplay her feelings. Ask questions to show your interest and avoid laughing or teasing your little one. Don’t take it too seriously but don’t be dismissive of your child’s feelings either.
BE PREPARED TO MEND HURT FEELINGS
At some point, every child is going to experience her first broken heart. For the Kindergartener, it might be when your son’s “girlfriend” no longer wants to play with him. Or maybe your daughter’s boyfriend now has a new girlfriend. When this happens, your little one will probably be really sad - which means that they’re really going to need you to be there to help them through it. During these times you should remind your child of how special she is and help him practice skills in making other friends. Remember, most crushes don’t last very long and your child will quickly move on. However, be prepared with a hug and a kiss when the kid that your child is very fond of wants to spend more time with someone else.
Navigating your children’s first few crushes may be a little awkward but they definitely need your support. Remember, these young crushes may seem little and insignificant to you but to your toddler, they are a big deal. Be sure to support your little one without overreacting.