Romance, companionship and the search for “the one” is such a big part of our lives. Should we be surprised when it becomes a big part of our pre-teen children’s lives too?

Victorine Mbong Shu, CEO of Profounder Intelligence Management Services, and author of parenting book ‘Stop Complaining! And Bring Back Involved Parenting’, says while children will naturally develop crushes, guiding them on what to do about these crushes is a series of conversations and not just one.

READ MORE: Playing at dating – What’s appropriate for kids and what isn’t?

Shock! Horror! And what to do next

The moment after your sweet adorable tween expresses that they have a crush could determine your conversations around relationships and their feelings going forward.

“Talking romance with children is not something that should be done on one day. If you have a communicative relationship with your young child, you should have, by their tweenage years been able to guide them on the difference between friendship and romance,” says Victorine.
Understanding what your child means by their ‘crush’ is very important; listening to them as they speak will not only express to you clearly what they mean but also what they understand.

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“Talking develops a child’s intellect in the sense that what you say is often guided by the child’s knowledge. To know whether a child is serious or not, a parent has to watch their child’s composure and their use of words when they talk. For instance, a child who understands what they are saying often uses real words guided by correlated body language. On the other hand, an innocent child would play and even get confused with the words and will correlate with ignorance,” she explains.

READ MORE: Sex education: Having THE TALK with 10-12 year-olds

It’s not your place to decide, but you should guide

In the era of helicopter parents, and constant contact with our kids, parents could be lulled into thinking they have control over what their children do, but the reality is our children (as young and adorable as they are) are autonomous and make their own decisions when we are not around.

“I would not say to encourage it. I would say, talk with them to understand how they came about to develop the crush. It is your place to guide them on how to develop and nurture their feeling without neither encouraging nor discouraging them,” says Victorine.

Not making a definitive judgement leaves room for a conversation. This means your child will be more likely to come to you and talk about their feelings and relationships as they develop.

READ MORE: Body parts: Is it necessary to have ‘The Talk’ with toddlers?

My tween is already ‘dating’. Now what?

Children can be selective about what they tell parents. Discovering that your child has a boyfriend or girlfriend can be shocking mainly because it has happened sooner than you expected. If you haven’t spoken about dating and relationships with your child, them announcing their relationship to you is the perfect opportunity to open the doors to this conversation and offer guidance and support.

“Parents have to accept the uniqueness of life and the fact that what we expect is not often what we get. They should focus on teaching the child dating safety techniques. I would advise for them to invite and befriend the girlfriend/boyfriend,” says Victorine

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