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Mendo Lake Family Life

What Not to Say about Your Kid’s Crush

By Tanni Haas

Whether your kids are going to camp this summer, joining you and the rest of the family on a vacation trip, or just hanging around the neighborhood with friends, chances are they’ll experience their first crush. People are apt to tell you what to say or do about it, but what should you avoid saying or doing? Here’s what the experts suggest.

Don’t minimize its significance. The first and most basic thing is not to minimize the significance of the crush or the inevitable breakup. Or as Katie Austin, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in adolescents, puts it, do not “dismiss how they’re feeling.” As a parent, you know that this and future crushes probably won’t lead to ever-lasting relationships, but your kids don’t necessarily understand that. To them, the crush may feel overwhelming and overshadow everything else that’s happening in their young lives. If they confide in you be careful about how you react. Brandi Lewis, a licensed professional counselor and educator who works with families, advises parents not to say things like “there are plenty of fish in the sea” or “there’ll be other guys or girls.” Instead, listen carefully to what they’re telling you and what it means to them, and validate their experiences and feelings. 

Don’t try to protect their emotions. Parents sometimes minimize the significance of a first crush because they fear that it won’t be reciprocated, and they can’t handle seeing their kids in pain. That’s understandable but not a good reason for minimizing its significance. For one, it won’t eliminate the pain. Secondly, as Kim Bell, PhD, a well-known child psychologist, says, parents are in danger of losing “touch with [their] child when [they] try to minimize it.” Simply put, your kids may decide not to talk to you about it at all. 

Don’t tease them. Don’t tease them about the crush or make light of it. You may think that inserting a bit of humor will lighten the emotional load, but the exact opposite is often the case. Sharon Saline, PhD, a clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience, says that teasing could be interpreted as devaluing their feelings. Saline advises parents to “avoid judgments of any kind. The less your [child] feels judged, the more likely they are to open up to you.” Julie de Azavedo Hanks, PhD, a well-known child psychologist and media personality, agrees that parents should never tease or make fun of their kids’ crush. Instead, she says, “talk about feelings of infatuation in a positive light, as a wonderful thing.” 

Don’t offer unsolicited advice or over-talk. Take your kids’ experiences and feelings seriously, and be careful about over-talking or offering unsolicited advice. If they’re open to advice, that’s great. Share with them whatever you feel like sharing, including your own experiences with crushes. But if that’s not the case, it’s better to stay silent. More generally, be careful about over-talking. “You may want to talk about your child’s crush every opportunity you have,” says Paul Chernyak, a licensed professional counselor and parenting coach, “but you and your child will handle the crush better if you step back a bit and let your child experience [it].” Bring it up occasionally: if you talk about it constantly, they may get embarrassed or even annoyed and may resist sharing anything further with you. Saline agrees: “Stay away from micromanaging: This is their relationship. Your main job as the parent is to be available when it hits inevitable bumps and likely runs its course.” 

Don’t share confidential information with others. Maintain confidentiality. Julia Simens, a family therapist in private practice, says “one of the most dangerous things [she sees] parents do is comment on their child’s crush in front of the child to other adults—or worse —to their child’s friends.” If you do that, you’ll most certainly lose your kids’ trust, and you won’t be able to help them navigate the inevitable ups and downs of this and future crushes. Put more positively, treat your kids’ crushes with the utmost care and confidence, and your kids will respond in kind. 

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.