Lots of kids have crushes from the time they go off to preschool. But as your girl reaches puberty, those crushes may get bigger. Tiny crushes, which in first grade took up a corner of her brain, can become engulfing crushes that make her look out the window for hours instead of studying for her math test.
Crushes are natural and useful. A crush lets your girl try on new feelings, like trying on clothes in a store. She can figure out what she likes in other people, and how to deal with frustration when she can’t get what she wants. You can’t keep your girl from developing a crush on someone, but you can (and should!) be there for her when she has questions or things get tough.
Teach her to say no (and yes!)
Many girls struggle to untangle what they feel from what feels polite. Turning somebody down when she doesn’t return their crush can feel mean and cruel. But she doesn’t want to get stuck in a relationship that makes her unhappy just because she didn’t have the nerve to speak up for herself. By the same token, saying yes when she feels enthusiastic about a person is important, too! Developing these skills will help her feel comfortable giving, or refusing to give, consent as she gets older.
Teach your girl to:
- Be clear and direct. “No, I’m sorry. You’re nice, but I don’t want to be your girlfriend” is better than “Uh, I don’t know, I don’t think so, right now, you know, maybe. Sorry.” She doesn’t want to lead him on. And if she is enthusiastic about saying yes to someone, she should! Playing hard-to-get just creates confusion. Teach her that no means no, and yes means yes.
- Be persistent. If an unwanted crush won’t leave her alone, she needs to use stronger language. She can say, “I’ve said no, and you should accept that. You are embarrassing me and pressuring me. I don’t like it. You have to stop.”
- Focus on what she wants. No one but her can decide who she likes or what she’s comfortable with. Just because her friend kissed a kid last week doesn’t mean she has to run out and kiss someone tomorrow. And she shouldn’t kiss someone just because they pressure her into it. Teach her to listen to her body and trust herself. If she has a bad feeling about something, that’s a good sign it’s time for her to say no and remove herself from the situation.
Talk about It
If your daughter has a crush, the best thing you can do is be there to talk. Maybe she tells you directly, “Mom, I have a crush on so-and-so.” Or maybe she’s acting nervous and giggly and spends more time than usual on her phone. Either way, let her know that you’re there to talk. You might start the conversation by telling her about your own experiences with crushes. Even if she doesn’t open up right away, starting the conversation lets her know that the subject is okay to talk about.
When it comes to crushes, conversations can quickly get heated. Especially if she wants to start dating before you think she’s ready. But in these moments, it’s more important than ever to keep communication open. When the two of you disagree, remember to:
- Go slow. When you or your girl are upset, it’s easy to let your words run away from you. Slow down. Choose your words carefully. If you stay calm, your girl is more likely to stay calm, too.
- Listen. You want her to listen to you. But you have to listen to her, too. Give your girl her turn to talk. If you can talk through the details, you may find you agree on more than you thought you did.
- Hit pause. If the conversation starts to feel out of control, take a break before either of you say something you’ll regret. Say, “Let’s cool down for a bit.” You can come back to the conversation later.
- Keep talking. The last thing you want is a freeze-out from your girl. No matter how much the two of you disagree, it’s important to let her know that you’ll always hear her out.
Prepare her for rejection
If she reaches out to a crush and gets turned down, it hurts. Your girl might feel humiliated, especially if she gets the news in the lunchroom in front of an audience. Before it happens, prepare her with the do’s and don’ts of facing bad news:
- Act as if it’s no big deal.
- Smile and say, “Oh, well. That’s OK.”
- Find a private place to cry if she needs to.
- Crack a joke. It’s a way of telling others—and herself—that she’s not going to collapse because of one turndown.
- Get busy with something else—schoolwork, talking to a friend, riding her bike. Diving into an activity will take her mind off her feelings and start healing her hurt.
- Argue or plead. It won’t change her crush’s mind, and it’s not fair to the crush.
- Get mad, say nasty things, or treat the crush like an enemy.
- Start drama. She’ll want to talk to her friends, but she doesn’t want them running around, carrying messages, and blowing things up into an extravaganza that the school will be talking about all week.
- Let people drag her into big discussions about how miserable she must feel. It will make her even more miserable.
- Imagine that she’ll get a different answer if you asks again next week
Support fun and safe relationships
When your girl does start dating, it’s more important than ever to keep communication open between you two. One great way to do that is by suggesting fun, safe ways for her and her crush to spend time together. This way, you can help shape healthy dating habits and make her more comfortable reaching out for advice.
Here are some activities for your girl and her crush to do together:
- Give the family dog a bath.
- Play a round of mini golf.
- Meet up with friends at the pool.
- Watch her brother’s basketball game.
- Do chores—they’re not so bad when you do them together!
- Go sledding. You can make some hot cocoa for them afterwards.
- Grab some bagels at her favorite cafe.
- Toss a frisbee.
- Go to the movies with a group of friends.
- Sit on the front stoop and talk.
- Bake cookies and share them with the family.
Comfort her after heartbreak
For adults, a relationship that ends after only days, weeks, or months might not seem like a big deal. But for a girl, being dumped can feel like the end of the world. Be there for her and let her know it’s okay to cry.
When she’s out of tears, encourage her to move her body. Go for a walk together, tune up the bicycles, or dust off the old tennis rackets. Help her exercise in a way that brings her joy every day. Give her reasons to feel good about herself.
Your girl may have things that remind her of the person—letters, pictures, texts, the stuffed dinosaur she got for Valentine’s Day. Remind her that no good can come from brooding over these relics. Let her give them one last sigh, and then encourage her to get rid of them. Now’s the time for her to face forward, not back.
Adapted from Crushes by Nancy Holyoke. ©2020 American Girl.
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