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: eyes wide, scrunched up nose, grimacing mouth.
“They’re dating, huh?” I asked. “Well, where did they go on their first date?”
“They sat together at lunch yesterday,” my daughter explained.
“Did he buy her lunch?” I further questioned.
“Well, noooo…” she said.
It can be sweet to watch our kids have their eyes opened to the world of crushes and feelings of romance. But it can also be worrisome as we think about the way their immaturity could lead to heartbreak. Today, kids who like each other “romantically” call it dating. 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. Confirm the good qualities they see in the other person, “Yes, Ethan is a kind boy who is fun to be around,” you can say. “It’s great that you notice that.”
If you think your child would be comfortable taking that point further, ask them a question: “So what else makes you like Ethan?” This helps your child put their feelings up against concrete reasoning.
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 is to guide them through their confusion and reason through things together. Explain how “dating” really 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 dating, 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, 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, “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 continued, “I don’t want you to burn bridges with guys before you’re even out of braces! Stay friends as long as you possibly can.”
Thankfully, 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.