Childhood crushes: ‘Puppy love’ or cause for concern?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Childhood crushes.

What would you do if your five-year-old one day came home gushing and swooning about their undying love for a classmate or friend? If he or she asks you to buy a gift for their love, just know playground weddings are real and experts have plenty to say about them

Sandra Wekesa @wekesa_sandra

One evening as Winnie Muyeshi was going through her son’s homework, as was her daily routine, she stumbled upon a perfectly folded paper.

On it, was his eight-year-old son’s handwriting and lovely words, which caught her offguard and completely dumbfounded.

 The letter in her now fidgeting hands read, ‘I really like you, will you be my girlfriend?’  dotted with some heart-shaped drawings and signed off in his name.

“I was so confused, felt rattled and totally unprepared for talking about crushes with my little boy,” she recounts.

But thinking back, Winnie could understand what her son was going through.

“I remembered receiving letters from my classmates when I was in lower primary, so I tried to cool down my nerves and talked to him.

I asked him who the girl on the letter was and how he knows her,” she says. She further embarked on a mission to find out who that little girl was. 

Mary Warimu, another mother also remembers how her six-year-old daughter always held hands with one particular boy in the estate whenever they were out playing. 

At first, she was okay with it and never thought something serious would come out of the freindship, until something odd happened.

The two would then start pecking each other on the cheeks whenever they met outside to play and would only play with each other.

Subliminal messages effect

“She didn’t want to hang out with anyone else other than that boy, but when I saw them now giving pecks as greetings I got a bit worried,” she admits.

Esther Mbau, a counselling trainer and child development expert.  Photo/COURTESY

Putting that in mind, she started setting some boundaries including telling them to play in an open place where everyone could see them and also setting time limits.

Child psychologists say that children start thinking about relationships between ages six and eight, and start thinking about their classmates in a different way, maybe liking a girl or boy and  thinking they are cute.

Research on this topic has revealed that first crushes are the fairy-tale messages children receive from books and movies, such as stories about a princess and her prince.

It’s the idea that you fall in love with someone. “It’s a normal and healthy phase of development,” says Esther Mbau, a counselling trainer and child development expert. 

She tells parents not to alarmed if they found their five-year-old having a crush on their peers or even someone older.

“Writing letters, holding hands, and even calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend is a normal part of growing up, not unless a child has been exposed to sex, this then ceases to be innocent play as they may want to experiment,” she explains.

She adds that in most circumstances this puppy love will set the pace of their future relationship and becomes an example of how they treat their real lovers when they start dating.

Also, a childhood crush can oftentimes, also foreshadow the type of person your child will be attracted to as he grows up.

Talking to your child

Mbau says how they handle those feelings will determine whether the relationship is going to be healthy or not. 

Also, parents should take a gentle approach and create time to talk with their child about exactly what type of feelings they have for their crush. 

“Say something like ‘It looked to me like Elsa makes you feel really happy and you enjoy being around her?’ 

Make them feel like it is part of life, but have an age appropriate discussion with them,” says Mbau.

However, she says it can only be cause for concern if your child is unable to focus in school, or on their day-to-day activities.

Setting boundaries should be necessary and this should start by ensuring that you get to interact with your child’s crush to understand the nature of their relationship.

“When questions such as ‘should I kiss my boyfriend/ girlfriend?’ come up, be able to  handle it with wisdom and do not ridicule them.”

Never stop at teaching them about healthy relationships because this helps in building self control and managing feelings without reacting to them.

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