My son returned from his first day of first grade with a “getting to know you” worksheet in his backpack.  What do you like to do with your friends? it asked sweetly.

His answer, in wonderfully legible pencil: Chase girls.

This is obviously my husband’s genetics at work, based on his vast experience with girls running after him as a kindergartner. He gives a fond, reminiscent laugh. “You know you’re good when you get them to chase you,” my husband counseled sagely.

Is that crush truly innocent? we wonder. Am I setting my kids up to be womanizers? Playboys? Players?

Taking their cues

As a mother of four, there’s what I would consider a “yes” and a “no” side  to worrying about crushes. We can neither scorn nor exalt boy/girl relationships. Kids, as usual, are taking their cues from how we speak about boy-girl interactions.

But there is a “This gets tricky” side of things related to an early crush too. It’s like the way my husband and I decided not to let our daughter wear a tiny swimsuit, even when her body isn’t developed. We want her to learn the ways of modesty.  And not have to relearn habits when her body changes.

We also want to protect her from those who would do her harm.

But then, there’s  “Let them be kids for a few years, for crying out loud” side too. Maybe this is simply a time of life when our kids can enjoy uncomplicated relationships until everything changes for life. For a few blessed years at least!

Maybe too many extra-biblical rules can create anxiety around boy-girl friendships. Remember unhealthy reactions to I Kissed Dating Goodbye anyone? The Bible grants us a wide freedom as parents to work out our personal convictions. (Check out 1 Corinthians 8).

Let’s think out how to handle an elementary crush with our kids.

Watch for unhealthy boundaries

A recent Colorado high school senior, wrestling in the state finals, respectfully chose to forfeit his potential title because he found it inappropriate to wrestle a girl. At what age do we instill this level of respect for young women in our young men?

It’s healthy to establish respectful habits and good manners. We do this in conversation: “We don’t need to talk about your new panties with him, sweetheart.” And we do this in play: “Let’s not be kissing girls on the playground, okay, buddy?”

Perhaps you’ll decide boys and girls shouldn’t have full-body contact or lie down together. Maybe you think they shouldn’t be in any room with the door closed, have sleepovers/bath time together after a certain age (or at all).

Obviously this depends on the level of relationships, e.g. bath time for siblings. But sibling abuse usually happens much earlier and more stealthily than we anticipate. And much more so with the accessibility of pornography in the digital age. It’s imperative to educate our children early to help them know what’s appropriate. Justin Holcomb’s God Made All of Me makes this conversation easy.

Watch for kids abusing kids

A lot of boy/girl play is truly innocent and sheer fun. But we don’t know which children have been abused among us. Therefore we don’t know which child is more likely to replicate those abusive behaviors through exhibitionism and more sexual forms of play. Unfortunately, because of homosexual abuse, this isn’t always restricted to boy/girl play.

Older children may be more likely to abuse younger children–even siblings–because of what they’ve seen (e.g. pornography). And because of greater physical strength. One Kansas City hospital reports that of the approximately 1,000 abuse victims it receives per year, about half of the perpetrators are minors.

Mothers of Sexually Abused Children (MOSAC) has compiled an excellent list of house rules to prevent abuse in your home.

Pray for your kids… for just 5 minutes a day with the Parenting Prayer Challenge.

Appreciate the role play

Playing house or cops and robbers or explorers, our kids are trying out different identities. Scholastic.com reports that role play helps kids mature past developmentally-normal egocentric play. Beyond just nurturing imagination and language skills.

When your child engages in pretend (or dramatic) play, he is actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. Through cooperative play, he learns how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve. When your child pretends to be different characters, he has the experience of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” which helps teach the important moral development skill of empathy.

Which of us wouldn’t think that in today’s cultural climate, we could use people who know how to empathize, problem-solve, cooperate, think beyond self, and share responsibility with the opposite sex? Even if that’s in cooperation with their lunch table crush.

Appreciate that boy/girl crushes celebrate ways the sexes need one another

We live in an age when both genders frequently communicate, “I don’t need you!” That’s a message directly opposed to the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:14-26). God states openly in creation that both genders, and presumably both together (Genesis 2:18), express his image (1:28).

We don’t need our kids to get the message the opposite sex is gross or dangerous.  (Islam specializes in this; in Saudia Arabia, the genders are mandatorily educated separately.) Sure certain private topics should be reserved for speaking with our own gender. But our kids can experience the value of fun and natural conversation with anyone.

When the genders are mixed in play, girls are often exposed to greater assertiveness, resilience, and athletic and outdoor types of recreation. Boys, on the other hand, learn more relational skills. They often become less disruptive and violent when routinely mixed with girls in a classroom setting. Academic scores were also higher for both genders.

Appreciate our kids enjoying the natural attraction God gave us toward the opposite sex

After years of marriage, how many of us have occasionally found our thoughts drifting back to the thrill of the chase?

We were made for love: for God’s love, and for human relationships tangibly demonstrating his love and pursuit. In fact, for much of time, that early attraction was satisfied much younger in the form of marriage. Our society boasts one of the latest median ages in history for marrying. But throughout human history, “early” attractions weren’t that early after all. A crush, after all, is just an early appreciation of qualities in the opposite gender.

Song of Solomon reminds us of who created attraction between the sexes–God. And how much he revels in it. So does God’s rich language when speaking of Israel. Perhaps like any of us who still enjoy a good old-fashioned interplay, God gets a kick out of how his image in males and females portrays his fullness even better when we’re together. Which is all the more reason an early crush is a very natural thing.


Copyright © 2019 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.

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