Why Your Child’s Passion Should Be Taken Seriously

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I recently asked my third grader about passions in his class. After two years of limited interaction with humans, I had to turn to him — the only person in our household who regularly socializes, albeit with his eight- and nine-year-old peers — for a dose of gossip.

He told me about some crushes, including his own, and also made it clear that there were some he couldn’t tell me because he was sworn to secrecy. I respected his secrets and didn’t push anymore.

Despite the fact that he seemed happy and at ease throughout our entire conversation, I wondered if I was asking too many questions or not respecting boundaries. Was I transgressing the sacred and private space of childhood passions?

Experts say no – good news for all the curious adults out there. Passions are important and long-ignored milestones in preteen children’s relational lives that parents and caregivers should respectfully discuss and unpack with them.

These puppy crushes help kids explore romantic feelings before they are ready for romantic relationships. Through them, they learn to deal with some of the most challenging parts of wanting each other.

Why children have crushes

A crush is in its own category of relationships, separate from friendship or dating. Sometimes crushes are for people we know, and other times they’re for fictional characters.

Often, even if we know the object of our desire, crush makes us idealize it, and it is often the idealized version of that person we can’t get out of our head, instead of the living, breathing, flawed being.

The experience of having a crush can start in preschool, and crushes can continue throughout life. Passions are usually unidirectional, although sometimes they are reciprocal. In any case, passions are common among prepubescent children and satisfy important needs.

“These kids have emerging romantic ideas and emerging romantic feelings, but they’re not really ready to translate them into romantic behaviors or relationships,” said Julie Bowker, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo in New York, adding that crushes often are not sexual or about dating in grade school.

To emerge, however, does not mean lack of power. Feelings are real, and children can use their parents’ help to understand them and learn what to do with them. It starts with parents taking these feelings seriously.

“There’s a very strong emotional component there, and for some kids it’s hard to know what to do with those strong emotions,” said Catherine Bagwell, a professor of psychology at Oxford College at Emory University in Georgia.

How to talk about crushes

Kids can talk about crushes all day with their friends and still barely understand them. This is where parents come in, even if we never know all the details of who has a crush on whom.

Parents are there to provide context and make sure kids know what they’re feeling has likely been felt before, said Amy Lang, a parenting and sexuality educator and host of “Just Say This,” a podcast about healthy sexuality.

When talking about crushes with kids, ask them why they like who they like, what kinds of things they would like to do with their crushes, and if they could invite them over. Also talk about what happens if both people don’t feel the same way.

How do we treat the person who “likes” us, who we don’t “like” back? How do we deal with it when the person we “like” doesn’t like us? Even in the case of top-secret, unrequited love, this line of questioning can help them connect the dots between being considerate, respectful, and curious and being in a romantic relationship with someone. “Establish the fact that friendship is a part of romantic relationships,” Lang said.

Talking to children about crushes helps normalize them, reducing the shame they may be feeling on the playground. In an attempt to normalize them, however, parents must be careful not to turn passions into something they are not.

“Sometimes adults like to almost sexualize kids and say things like, ‘Oh, you’re so cute! Will marry.’ In my universe, all that kind of language is not good,” Lang said, explaining that this conversation is not where kids are developing and makes relationships bigger than they are. Going there creates a set of expectations that children cannot fully understand or meet.

At the same time, parents must be careful not to minimize passions.

“Passions are important to them,” Bagwell said. Dismissing them or not taking them seriously can be potentially harmful to children and can make them less eager to share their feelings. When parents take their children’s feelings seriously, they teach them to take their feelings forward—which is the first step in learning to process someone’s feelings.

If the mere mention of crushes leaves your child silent, talk anyway. Lang recommends asking broad questions about crushes at school, whether they’re happening, rather than who has a crush on whom. If that fails, parents can tell their stories of childhood crushes, what they remember and how they felt.

“It tells your child that you know about it, and it’s okay to talk about it,” she said. It might seem weird or over the top, but Lang said get over it. “It’s your job to help your child have healthy relationships.”

Lang added: “My son to this day doesn’t tell me who he has a crush on, so I just talk about passion in general and build on that. It’s not their job to tell us anything or ask questions.”

One piece of information I wish my parents would tell me when I had early crushes is that most crushes don’t result in relationships. After all, I wasn’t a romantic failure. Less than 20% of high school students have reciprocal romantic relationships, Bowker said, and 20% of high school students graduate without having a serious, lasting relationship.

Elementary-age children can benefit from knowing that most aren’t ready for a relationship until age 10 to 14. Until then, and even after, there is nothing wrong or strange about having unrequited crushes.

what are the limits

While crushes are a bit obsessive in nature, they can go too far.

Help children understand that some behaviors can make the object of their affections uncomfortable, Bowker suggested. There is a respectful way of admiring another person, and one that crosses borders, and it is important to explain the difference. “There were two boys at my daughter’s school who had a crush on her and watched her all the time, and it made her uncomfortable,” she said.

If your child is in a similar situation, she recommended that parents talk to them about “consent, respect and boundaries.” Unwanted attention can easily cross boundaries, and children need their parents’ help to figure out what those boundaries are and how to express them to others and stand up for themselves.

She said parents should resist normalizing any behavior just because they were common when they were kids — no more “boys will be boys” for hair pulling and other expressions of affection — and listening to what feels right for their child.

As the kids get older, Bagwell said to keep an eye out if passion is holding them back from doing other things they should be doing. If that’s the case, the passion may have gone too far.

The start of healthy relationships

Passions and parent-child conversations about crushes can be the building blocks of healthy romantic relationships. Children have a chance to overcome boundaries and rejection, developing empathy along the way.

“Looking at the big picture, they smell like relationships and they have the components of relationships,” Lang said, giving kids the building blocks to learn to deal with and talk about long-term relationships.

“Talk about something as normal and common as passions, and you open up a lot of other conversations that could be more important in the long run,” Lang said. These may include questions about gender, sexuality and sexual relationships.

Just as crushes are rehearsals for romantic relationships for my children, I now understand that talking about crushes is rehearsal for future conversations.

As they learn to connect romantically, I hope to learn a few things too.

I want to be able to make room for their vulnerability and feelings, respecting their privacy, to offer unsolicited advice that needs to be said even when met with silence, and to try to reassure them through the ups and downs of early love they know. They are neither strangers nor alone.

Source: CNN Brasil

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