You are currently viewing CRUSHED – YOUR CHILD’S FIRST LOVE

The first cut is always the deepest. How you handle your child’s first love (and crush) can help or hinder your relationship and even their development.

Remember your first experiences of falling in love, with all the intense jubilation, crashing disappointment and stomach-wrenching early fumblings, not to mention agony, that go hand in hand with this inevitable rite of passage? Now it’s time to deal with your child’s first love.

Your child may be just ten years old, but you probably don’t have another six years for this scenario to unfold. Pre-teens are sexually developing sooner than ever. Part and parcel of that development is showing an interest in the opposite sex and venturing into the scary, unpredictable and exciting waters of relationships, too.
According to child psychologist Dr Lawrence Kutner of Harvard Medical School, you have a role to play when it comes to your child’s first love and it can’t be avoided. He notes that experimentation with being an adult is vital in a child’s pre-teen and teenage years, and that it’s in these years that children need to try to separate from their parents and to test their independence.
But he also says that it’s now that parents feel the need to protect their child more, which creates tension. And very little creates more tension between developing children and their protective parents than their first love, and their first loss of love, which, when combined, Kutner sees as the most important ‘first’ of all.

Changing gears

Parents need to be mindful that this is the first time their child tests the way she thinks about herself. She is not an adult, but will certainly role-play being an adult.
It’s also a time when your whole relationship with your child needs to change gear accordingly. Experts say that this signals a time when you need to change your channels of communication and allow your child greater privacy. Resist giving advice. Your child now wants advice to come from peers, not you. But listen and be available to share. Sympathise and empathise, even share excitement, but don’t be patronising. And don’t belittle their feelings. And most of all, be brave. If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that there will be fallout.


Have an open, honest chat about setting new rules for your child and their love interest. Let them know what you will and will not accept: for example, the bedroom is off-limits unless they’re in a group; curfews are to be taken seriously; if your child visits their love interest’s home, you expect a parent to be present. And many believe that pre-teen crushes should be limited to time spent in groups, and your pre-teen should not ‘date’ per se.

Help yourself through the crush

  • It’s normal. You won’t be able to stop it so don’t alienate your child by forbidding contact or punishing them.
  • Keep it where you can see it. Invite the loved one over and make them feel welcome in your home. It’s better than them sneaking out into public areas or going behind your back.
  • If the crush seems to take over your child’s life, meaning that they’re losing friends, their school work is suffering, they’ve given up hobbies or are invading someone’s privacy, consider getting the help of a trained counsellor or psychologist.
  • First-love relationships are invariably on-again, off-again affairs, so brace yourself for a bumpy ride. And don’t bad-mouth the love interest if they break up. By tomorrow, it could be back on again and your child won’t forgive you for what you’ve said about their ‘true love’.

Help your child through the heartache

  • Don’t underestimate how they feel, and don’t dismiss their pain as being insignificant.
  • Let them know that just because the first relationship is over, it doesn’t mean they’ll never find love again.
  • Let your child know that you’re there for them: and be prepared to listen or just hang out.
  • Encourage them to see their friends and to make contact with those they might have lost touch with in the course of the relationship.
  • Let them know they don’t have to pretend to be fine.
  • Encourage them to fill the space left in their life by taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill.
  • Encourage them to spend some time alone before throwing themselves into another relationship or seeking affirmation from others.
  • Let them wallow: don’t moan about the sad songs they want to play.
  • Remind them that getting your heart broken for the first time is a fact of life and that no one is immune. If it hadn’t happened now, it would always be waiting for them down the road.

Laura Twiggs

Read more: Bonding with teenagers in Pretoria and Bonding with teenagers in Joburg.