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    When your kids hit the tween stage, all those innocent crushes, which you probably even encouraged when they were preschoolers, just stop…being cute. In fact, the topic suddenly becomes scary. So when you hear the words, “Mom, I have a crush,” earnestly delivered, you can’t help but freak out. Mayone Bakunawa, a makeup artist, said when her then 10-year-old son Migs confided in her that he had a crush, she went through all the stages of anger (“You said si Mama lang ang love mo!”), denial (“You’re too young to have a crush!”), bargaining (“Focus on your studies first, you can have a crush after college...”), and, eventually but very slowly, acceptance (“Is she mabait, matalino, and pretty?”).

    We all know crushes are just part and parcel of normal teen development. We’ve gone through them ourselves, and, from experience, we know that if our kids feel we’re being too intrusive or showing too much disapproval, these kids will clam up. Here’s how you can keep communication lines open and instill confidence and trust with your tween. 

    Respect and listen 
    Don’t approach your child like you know it all, or you’ve been there and done that (even if you have). According to Dr. Jayne Major, parenting educator and founder of the Breakthrough Parenting Services, Inc., parents should “be respectful, do receptive listening, use statement sentences” to invite the child to open up. Allow him to open up in his own terms and within his comfort zone without embarrassing him, especially in front of other people. Growing up, Lady Lorredo was terrified of her parents finding out about her crushes. Now that she is a mother to MC, she reassures her daughter that it is natural. “I think we have to encourage tweens to share their feelings and emotions so we can guide them and more importantly, enjoy the experience with them,” she explains.

    Love unconditionally 
    Dr. Major also stresses that the reason children alienate their parents is because they may feel distrust when parents tend to intrude, unloved when they are reprimanded constantly without the assurance of unconditional love. If a tween is raised in a caring and supportive environment, that relationship serves as a model for future romantic ties and simultaneously open the lines of trust and interaction back at home.

    For mom Genalyn Enriquez-Gerodias, talking about crushes is a way to bond with her 8-year-old son. “I tell my son that it’s usually fleeting and sometimes silly. My son would end up teasing me instead when I start sharing my own crushes back in the day and we’ll have a [great time] laughing about it.” So even if your child may seem detached from you at this point, a show of interest can be beneficial to your parent-child relationship. Review adolescent relationships featured on television shows and movies you might watch together and ask your child about his friends and what they discuss in school particularly about the opposite sex, friends, or perhaps even sex education in health class. Treat your conversations as a bonding opportunity so that you can constantly guide your child to create healthy friendships and learn the proper ways of relating with peers.

    Be cool 
    We know staying cool isn’t exactly an easy task, but paranoia will only create distance. Instead of dwelling on the possibility that your child may be attracted to trouble or the “wrong” sort of people, be optimistic about what your child can realize about his/ her own personality and choices. Unless it may compromise his safety, allow him to explore this stage within reasonable boundaries that are carefully explained to him. 

    Again, communication is key. Parents need to understand that listening can sometimes be more effective than doing the talking. Children need to be allowed to express themselves the way they know how, and be given the right encouragement when seen fit, sometimes even when you disapprove even a little. After all, the job description does say unconditional love. And remember: Having crushes is normal and generally harmless. Your son or daughter isn’t taking on a life partner. Not yet. 

    This story originally appeared on Femalenetwork.com.

    A version of this article appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping Philippines.

    * Minor edits have been made by the Smartparenting.com.ph editors. 

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