The age kids begin to become attracted to one another varies tremendously from one person to another. For some, those feelings start in late elementary school. For others, it’s not until high school.
So when a child 9- or 10-years-old begins to show romantic interest in another, parents need to be proactive in communicating and establishing guidelines. Here are some tips to help:
1. Set the stage. Take your preteen’s relationships seriously. Attractions are normal and will only increase as children grow. Remember the way he or she views and conducts relationships now paves the way for future dating relationships.
2. Get their view. Ask your teen how he or she defines “dating,” “going out,” or “having a boyfriend or girlfriend.” Then share your views. Reinforce the need to always respect others and oneself.
3. Keep the line of communication open. If the relationship has gelled, continue dialoguing, so you know how it is progressing. Ask open-ended questions in a casual way: “What do you like about this boy?” “What do you have in common?” “How does he treat you?” “Who are her friends?” “How do you feel about her?” “Do you feel respected by this person?” This gets your child thinking about what is important in a relationship.
4. Establish and discuss relationship boundaries. These could include not being alone with the boy or girlfriend, having parental supervision at home, not being allowed in each other’s bedrooms, no touching, staying in group settings, and having a curfew, to name a few. Equally important is to help your preteens understand why these boundaries are there, so they begin to develop an internal compass.
5. Set expectations in other realms of life. Remind your preteen the importance of remaining focused on academics and extra-curricular activities, as well as maintaining current friendships. Set guidelines about phone and internet use, too.
6. Monitor media exposure. The messages young people receive from music, television, movies, books, and magazines are laden with love, sex, and relationships. Make sure these messages line up with your family’s values. If you see or hear something questionable with your child’s media, use it as an opportunity to discuss your values in a non-confrontational way. Realize your preteen may question your values, particularly if they don’t line up with media messages or her friends’ values. This is normal and means she is questioning, but not necessarily rejecting, what you embrace.
7. Know their friends. They have a tremendous influence on the way your child thinks, talks, and acts. Open your home and encourage your preteen to invite his or her friends over, so you know them and see how they interact.
8. Discuss dress. Share with your preteen that the way we dress sends a message to others. Clothing should be modest and should not have provocative messages written on it. Set the standard by being a good role model in the way you dress.
9. Honor privacy to a point. Reserve the right to inspect your preteen’s backpack or room if he or she becomes secretive or begins to show other signs that concern you.
10. Allow expression of emotions. Don’t minimize your preteen’s feelings, no matter how trivial they may seem. This is particularly true for boys who may think they need to suppress it. At the same time, teach him or her to make decisions based on careful thought, not heartfelt emotions.
11. Lend emotional support. Most preteen relationships are short lived. When the relationship ends, your child may or may not be hurt, but your sensitivity and empathy toward the situation will build a healthy trust and bond between you.
12. Know when it is time to intervene. If the relationship moves beyond innocent, the preteen becomes obsessive, or you begin to see unhealthy behaviors, contact your school counselor or other professional for advice.
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines, the mother of three children, and a grandmother.
• “For Young Women Only” (Multnomah) by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice
• “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” (Scribner) by Adele Faber
• “How to Talk so Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens will Talk” (William Morrow Paperbacks) by Adele Faber
• “You and Your Adolescent, Revised Edition” (Simon and Schuster) by Lawrence Steinberg, Ph.D.
• “Raising a Thinking Preteen: The ‘I Can Problem Solve’ Program for 8- to 12-Year-Olds” (Holt Paperbacks) by Myrna Shure and Roberta Israeloff
• “Roller-coaster Years” (Harmony) by Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese
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