Puppy love is part and parcel of growing up. Parents can help their children navigate the journey by keeping an open mind and talking frankly about love and sexuality.
Lately, your son has been talking incessantly about a certain girl in class and you notice the excitement in his voice. He’s been spending a lot more time texting on his phone.
Your parental instincts tell you that cupid has struck. Should you interrogate him or feign ignorance?
Children as young as six years old can experience their first crush. Early socialisation promotes crushes, and an innocent infatuation can happen any time during the child’s formative years.
The media has a big influence as well. Think Disney movies – where the hero saves and marries the princess.
It’s important to have the talk on love and sexuality with your child early. Crushes can affect teenagers so strongly that they choose to ignore reason. It pays to start the dialogue when they’re young and create opportunities to discuss hard topics openly – such as the difference between love and infatuation, and love and sex.
A Senior Specialist from MOE’s Guidance Branch offers parents tips on giving your children the right support during this delicate phase.
Q: What are the signs that your child is experiencing puppy love?
A: Your daughter may ask about your romantic encounters with your spouse when you were dating. Or your teenage son has started to talk about a particular girl in his class or CCA.
When the situation intensifies, you may observe a sudden drop in grades, or disinterest in things they held dear previously. They may be so obsessed with seeing, calling or texting someone that they stop doing their homework.
For younger children, it might be time to ask more questions if they’re suddenly giggly or exuberant about a friend of the opposite sex. Another sign could be when your child is suddenly interested in the romantic plots in books and movies. With some children, they may include romance, kissing and marriage into pretend play.
Q: How do you react to your child’s crush?
A: When your child has a crush, he’s experiencing new feelings for someone outside the family which he may not fully understand. His feelings are real and should be respected.
You may feel like avoiding the subject or squeezing out every detail from your child. Avoid these extreme reactions.
Talk to your child no matter how unrealistic the crush is. Encourage him to share details. For example, what does your child like about the classmate? Does the classmate know? Do his friends know about it?
Avoid acting as if the crush is not happening. Do not judge and reprimand your child for having those feelings, or laugh and make light of them. This could hurt and keep him from talking to you in the future.
Q: How do you start the conversation?
A: Keep calm and steer away from being anxious or critical. The tactic is to have a neutral, non-judgemental and curious tone. Show reasonable interest and follow your child’s lead.
If the crush seems to be getting intense, have regular, frank talks. Your child may need professional guidance if he becomes obsessed with the crush. Remember that it’s a delicate balance between validating your child’ feelings and not putting too much attention on the crush.
Q: What are the positive messages you can instil in your child?
A: Boundaries are important, especially for pre-teens and teenagers. You can’t prevent your child from having a boy-girl relationship because they will invariably end up doing so behind your back.
It’s best to allow the relationship but set clear physical and emotional boundaries. This could mean setting curfews and limiting the time spent on computers and handphones. Help your child balance his responsibilities with his social life.
About the Guidance Branch
The Guidance Branch, under the Student Development Curriculum Division, promotes the social, emotional and mental wellbeing of all students through a culture of care and guidance curriculum. The Branch also offers intervention for students at risk.