Ramp up to Valentine's Day? A third-grader's crush

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 2, 2011 06:00 AM

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Barbara,
My daughter is in 3rd grade and has had a crush (her words) on a boy in her class all school year (he has not said that he likes her and she hasn't said that to him). They hang out, along with other kids, during recess but don't see each other outside school. Eight years old seems awfully young to me to be so vocal about liking somebody (although I remember liking a boy as early as first grade, but I certainly didn't tell my mother about it!). What should I say to her when she talks about her crush? Is this typical for her age? Thanks.

From: Barbara, Braintree

Hi Barbara,

First crushes have long been considered a rite of passage, a sign that a girl (or boy) is newly aware of her or his "romantic" side, so yes, preteen crushes are very much a typical part of a development, a step on the ladder to understanding about relationships.

Is it sexual? No? Is it an attraction? Sure. There's something about the person that awakens a new feeling in a boy or a girl that they identify as love. Of course, it's very typical for the object of the crush to be totally unaware. As Margaret Sagarese and Charlene Giannetti write in their book, "Boy Crazy!", for a preteen girl, the boy himself is often incidental, serving more as a prop, someone to pin these new-found emotions on.

Should you be concerned? Probably not, but Valentine's Day is coming up and that'll give you a clue.

Here's the problem. Girls and boys haven't changed, but the culture in which they are growing up has: Our culture today is awash in sexuality (See "So Sexy So Soon" by Diane Levin & Jean Kilbourne), and it can produce premature pressure for preteens, especially girls, to show interest -- or to pretend interest -- in things romantic and sexual.

As Nancy Gruver once said to me, "The culture is providing the script before [girls] have the hormones to go with it."

So how should you handle your daughter's crush? As nonchalantly as possible.

Don't pooh-pooh it, forbid it, or make her self-conscious. On the other hand, don't encourage it with comments like, "Isn't that cute?" or, "How's your boyfriend today?" Instead, ask questions that get some values about relationships on the table, for instance, the importance of shared interests ("What is it that makes you like him? Is he good at math, like you are? Does he like to run like you do?).

I said the run-up to Valentine's Day will offer some clues whether you need to be concerned or not. Here's what to keep in mind: It's not the singling out of a particular boy that's a red flag, it's what the singling out looks like. Does she want to give him her picture? In a heart-shaped frame? Does she want a "special" Valentine card for him? These would be over-the-top for a third grader.

A good response: "These are thoughtful things to do when you care about someone, but it's for when you are older." In other words, you aren't questioning her feelings but her age. If she says he's her boyfriend, tell her, "You're too young for a boyfriend. You can give him the same that you give to your best girl friend."

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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4 comments so far...
  1. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember my mom made me a little heart-shaped pin that she had painted pink with the words "Best Friends". She made two; one for me to keep, and one for me to give to a best girlfriend for Valentines Day. I remember being really excited about that. Maybe its a good way to redirect those feelings of excitement about the holiday.

    Posted by Sarah B February 3, 11 09:09 AM
  1. Sarah B, that sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a 3rd grader to me.

    Posted by geocool February 3, 11 01:48 PM
  1. geocool -- I'm not sure how you see pressure there? A lot of young girls (don't know about boys....I never was one) have a very close best friend. It can be a very affectionate relationship -- I remember trading friendship bracelets and pins, etc., at that age. It's part of normal girl friendships.

    Posted by jjlen February 3, 11 02:55 PM
  1. What pressure? Most girls that age have a best friend, and Sarah B said she was very excited about it. Her mom probably even knew who she'd give it to, and made the pins with that in mind. Reminds me of those "best friend" lockets that were popular when I was growing up.

    Crushes are typical at that age and even younger. I had them, and even had my mom knew about one (she was friends with his mom). It had nothing to do with romance. It's great that she is open enough to tell you, so oyu are able to have a conversation with her about it..

    Posted by mk February 4, 11 02:44 PM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember my mom made me a little heart-shaped pin that she had painted pink with the words "Best Friends". She made two; one for me to keep, and one for me to give to a best girlfriend for Valentines Day. I remember being really excited about that. Maybe its a good way to redirect those feelings of excitement about the holiday.

    Posted by Sarah B February 3, 11 09:09 AM
  1. Sarah B, that sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a 3rd grader to me.

    Posted by geocool February 3, 11 01:48 PM
  1. geocool -- I'm not sure how you see pressure there? A lot of young girls (don't know about boys....I never was one) have a very close best friend. It can be a very affectionate relationship -- I remember trading friendship bracelets and pins, etc., at that age. It's part of normal girl friendships.

    Posted by jjlen February 3, 11 02:55 PM
  1. What pressure? Most girls that age have a best friend, and Sarah B said she was very excited about it. Her mom probably even knew who she'd give it to, and made the pins with that in mind. Reminds me of those "best friend" lockets that were popular when I was growing up.

    Crushes are typical at that age and even younger. I had them, and even had my mom knew about one (she was friends with his mom). It had nothing to do with romance. It's great that she is open enough to tell you, so oyu are able to have a conversation with her about it..

    Posted by mk February 4, 11 02:44 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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