Saturday, 25 April 2009

What is too young for young love . . .

Sweet Son and Proud Mama

Mamapedia is an online resource for parents and a recent question was asked:

1st crush in first grade??? Isn't this a little young?

I chuckled. 

My first crush was in Kindergarten.  He was the tallest boy in the class and I followed him around like Tinkerbell following Peter Pan.  I remember staring at him adoringly.

In later years it became apparent to me that my initial attraction may have had something to do with the fact that I had three older brothers and an additional 10 male cousins, with nary a female in sight.  I'm sure his height reminded me of the "older" men in my life.

Then in first grade my first love letter was confiscated by the teacher.  It was written in sky blue which was the most awesome color in my box of 64 crayons.  I sat by my crush and wrote a note: Do you like me?  I like you.  Circle yes or no.  

The moment the note was passed, Mrs. Campbell asked for me to walk it up to her.  

Oh, the shame.   

I can still feel the heat that rushed to my cheeks.  I returned to my teacher at the end of the day to ask if she would release my note  from the home she had given it: inside THE gradebook.  

No, I was told.  It belonged to her now.  That was the same answer I got the next 53 times I asked. 

Later in my school career Mrs. Campbell had the opportunity to share with me that she STILL had my first love letter written in sky blue crayon and that, actually, she had been very pleased with my navigation of the writing of said letter at such a young age.  I was happy and relieved to see her smiling while she was discussing my offense.

So what is my personal and professional opinion about a first grade crush?  

Don't sweat the small stuff.

Crushes are a natural developmental milestone and are nothing new to our society.  

If you feel your child is being exposed to TV or real life situations that encourage precocious behavior, those are the issues that you may easily address and it would be appropriate to do so. 

And of course if you see inappropriate or suggestive acting out or language-- this should be explored and addressed: these behaviors do not come naturally to a young child and they are being exposed to it somewhere.

It's not so easy to "change" what is already going on in our children's minds, but sometimes it can be a wake-up call to make changes that affect what is happening in your environment that spawns your child's thoughts and ideas and interests.

Over-focusing on an issue such as this can give the issue much more power and almost guarantee it to be a concern again in the future.  Remember the golden rule of parenting: the best way to extinguish unwanted behavior--whenever possible IGNORE IT.

This issue came up with some of my children and since I had a frame of reference of having had those feelings at the same age I saw it as totally normal behavior and treated it as such.  

It is important to remember that children can have very strong feelings of admiration for someone.  

My son and a little girl "liked" each other from first to third grade.  There were no outings, or pronouncements, but they saw each other at school.  

After she decided to "like" someone else, I stumbled upon the most eloquent letter my son had written to a friend that expressed how "adults do not think we can feel actual love at our age, but we can. . . I know because I did. . . "  as he went on to express the lessons he'd learned for an entire page and a half of the neatest penmanship I'd ever seen from him.

Honestly, my son's letter brought tears to my eyes and not because of any fear or disappointment or concern, but because I saw that the seed of an emotionally articulate, loving and caring man had been planted.  

He continues to be an extremely loving and caring young man who did not have flings, has always treated girls with respect-- including his sisters and mother-- and at age 18 is in an extremely respectful committed relationship after not seriously dating for most of high school. This WAS a choice.  He was asked and attended the Jr. Sr. Prom when he was a Freshman, and has had many who adore him; I'm sure because he is such a sweetheart.  But he has been very thoughtful about where his time, effort and, yes, feelings would be going.

I know his early "crush" had an impact on his choices he made regarding relationships and I would not change one thing about it. 

But the bottom line?  If I wanted to STOP his crush, I couldn't if I had tried and in trying to stop it, it would have only intensified those feelings.  

Use discussions of crushes as teachable moments-- especially when you can use those lessons to bring home your family's value system-- and then sit back and relax and enjoy the ride.   

Remember to embrace the angst; there is a lot more to come.

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