I’ll never forget the look on my fifth-grade daughter’s face when she told me that her friend was dating a boy in their class: wide eyes, a scrunched up nose, and the likes.
“They’re dating, huh? Well, where did they go on their first date?” I asked.
“Well, they sat together at lunch yesterday,” my daughter explained.
“Did he buy her lunch for her?” I further questioned.
“Well, noo…” she began.
“Then there’s your answer! Honey, I hate to break it to you, but they’re not dating.”
It can be sweet to watch our kids have their eyes opened to the world of crushes and feelings and enjoying others. But it can also be worrisome as we think about the way their immaturity could lead to heartbreak. Avoiding the reality of ‘my child is dating’ is important at this early age. So here are a couple of key truths to keep in mind as we consider how to parent through our kids’ desire to “date” at a young age.
Validate Your Child’s Feelings
It’s important to validate your child’s feelings when they share with you that they “like” someone of the opposite sex. Tell them that they’re right: Jimmy is a kind boy who is fun to be around. But be sure to define their feelings as caring rather than romantic. This is the best way to show that you are listening and understanding your child, while simultaneously discouraging them from building those feelings up in their minds.
Guide Them through Their Confusion
When your child develops feelings for someone, they are being led by their heart—not their head. That’s why it’s our job as parents to guide them through their confusion and reason through things together. Explain to them how “dating” means going out on actual dates with someone. And if they aren’t old enough to drive, then your question should be, “If they’re going out, where are they even going?!” Be sure your child knows how silly it sounds to date someone before you’re really able to go on dates.
Encourage Them to Pursue Friendships
Finally, be sure to encourage your child to pursue friendships rather than romantic relationships when they’re young. When I sat down to talk to my daughter about this, I said to her, “The girls that start ‘dating’ in 5th grade will go through every boy by 8th grade. Then at the start of high school when they’re finally mature enough to consider dating for real, they will have so many damaged relationships with boys. Honey, I don’t want you to burn bridges with guys before you’re even out of braces yet! Stay friends as long as you possibly can.” Luckily, my daughter took well to my advice. She’s had so many great friendships with boys over the years and found high school much easier knowing she had guys she could trust.
Be sure to encourage your child to pursue friendships rather than romantic relationships when they’re young.
What would you add to this list?