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He tells me regularly that she's so nice and kind to everyone, how beautiful she is, how pretty her hair is, and this, that and the other. Now he's asking me what he should say to her, and if he should tell her he loves her.

I told him I think it's a bad idea to say that to her because she might not understand, and that he should just appreciate being friends with her and talk to her about things they have in common.

I didn't tell him that I think that he shouldn't tell her because

  • she might tell him she doesn't like him and that could crush him.
  • she could turn around and tell other people and suddenly he becomes a target for bullying.
  • 7 years of age is too young to be getting involved in that kind of stuff.

I think I should take as much of a hands-off approach to his personal and relational development as I can. I don't mean to say I want him to figure it out all on his own, but I don't want to poison his innocence or experiences with my far more experienced, but biased views.

Is this the right way to deal with this? Should I handle it differently? Should I tell him the cold hard facts? Should I highlight the risks? What is the best way to handle this without negatively influencing him?

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    I'd say you're on the right track. +1 for the hands-off approach. Don't lie to him, but answer his questions as honestly as you feel comfortable answering them. – Brian Robbins Jan 5 '15 at 14:42
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    Has there been conspicuous romance among the adults in his life recently? For example a wedding or a new partner? Or even in a favourite movie? Older siblings / cousins with a new boyfriend / girlfriend? – A E Jan 9 '15 at 8:25
  • No, but his mother and I are regularly carrying on with the "I love you" to each other and with him and the other kids, and lots of hugs and kisses. Could that be influencing it? – DaveDev Jan 9 '15 at 9:14
  • Didn't know a seven-year-old child could actually be in love with a girl. 'Like' sure, but 'in love' wow! – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 16 '15 at 3:02
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    When my son was five, we were at the farmer's market with the family of his daycare crush. He was riding my shoulders, she was on her dad's. My son blurted out "Amanda. I love you!" She just glanced at him, and continued about her business. I don't think his unrequited declaration or her lack of reciprocation lead to a reduction in hugs or hand-holding. Kids are so cute at that age. I was probably better at the girlfriend thing in kindergarten and first grade than I've been as an adult, myself. :D – PoloHoleSet Oct 11 '16 at 13:55
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I think you're being wise here. Acknowledge your son's true feelings of love and admiration for his playmate. But to have him express these feelings might cause some discomfort in someone in whom the feelings aren't reciprocated. As he has asked what he should do, you are giving him good advice. I would explain the consequences you mention in a gentle and straightforward manner, without being overly fearful of the negative possibilities. If he chooses to tell her anyway, he might be in for a pleasant surprise, or he will have been warned.

Some of this depends on the culture you (or the other child) are in. One of my children had a steadfast, reciprocated "love" (and I have no doubt it was love) for a playmate for years. Both sets of parents were fine with it.

On the other hand, one of my other children professed (at 7) his admiration for a crush, and the parents not only called us in alarm, but forbade the little girl from talking to him in the future. It was a valuable (and somewhat painful) lesson all around. Boundaries need to be respected.

Children who never see or hear about boundaries don't learn how to set them well themselves. So while that proved to be a painful outcome, it was a valuable lesson nonetheless.

  • I think you're assuming a maturity level that isn't there. Grade-school children declaring their love for each other really doesn't carry any kind of gravity like it does once hormonal-driven angst sets in. There might be some light-grade teasing, but mostly those declarations roll right off the kids, and are very transient in nature (the one declaring the love is usually declaring it to someone else sooner than later). That problem seems to be more with parents who read too much into grade-school crushes. – PoloHoleSet May 30 '17 at 21:03
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Your 7-year-old will still be struggling with this when he's 17.

I think it's important for a parent to explain the difference between love and infatuation, between a relationship and a crush. He might not be able to comprehend everything you'd like to tell him, but I don't think 7 is too young to start.

Let him know that even adults sometimes struggle with these feelings; we can feel strong emotions for someone even when we know little about them. Let him know that it's important to recognize these emotions, and to control them, rather than letting the emotions control you.

Is that a bit deep for a 7-year-old? Perhaps. But consider it the start of a 10-year conversation.

You have a teachable moment on your hands. You might even be able to use it as a reference point down the road: “Remember when you were younger, and we talked about your feelings for Maria?”

I don't want to poison his innocence or experiences with my far more experienced, but biased views

I wouldn't want you to poison his innocence, either, but by all means, at least gently share your wisdom. If he won't get wisdom from his parents, where will he learn about such things?

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