How to talk about: Their awkward first romance

Back in the olden days if a young man fancied a young woman, he would ask his father to ask her father to organise an afternoon soiree with the intentions of the parents agreeing to the courtship of the young couple. This would traditionally include a tea pot, four tea cups and far too many doilies. Oh my giddy aunt, how things have changed!

These days our children audaciously think they can organise their own relationships without tea or doilies – and you may never get invited to a soiree. So how do you stay involved in your child’s world as they experience the highs and lows of developing and experiencing romantic feelings?

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Make it a safe topic for conversation

Some parents don’t want to talk about falling in love and break-ups and choose instead to let their child figure that stuff out on their own. Some would much prefer to give them an Ed Sheeran album, a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and hope they do the trick.

Lots of homes also run by the unspoken rule – ‘in our family we don’t talk about relationships’. But if you’re reading this, chances are you want to talk about it. And that’s a good thing. Let your children know that in your family, this is a safe topic.

Your children will almost certainly develop some romantic feelings in the first few years of puberty. You can ignore it, or pretend it’s not happening, or you can acknowledge their feelings, stay involved and you might even get to coach them through the first awkward relationship they have.

The Big Weekend‘ – hosted by Petra Bagust and Pio Terei – is designed to start conversations about sex and puberty for you, preparing you and your child for the teen years ahead. It is designed for both boys and girls and is available for purchase on CD, alternatively, visit iTunes or Spotify and search for ‘The Parenting Place’.

Your reaction matters

There are lots of ways parents find out their child is in a relationship. Maybe their child told them. Or maybe it was blurted out in an intentional act of sabotage by a younger sibling trying to divert attention from the fact that they have wrapped the cat up in Duraseal.

You know how that conversation goes –

Mum: “What have you done to the cat?”
Jack (aged 6): “Sarah likes Jason!”
Sarah (aged 11): (Going bright red) “No, I don’t!”

But increasingly, parents are finding out about their child’s developing romantic feelings by seeing a conversation their child has been having with someone or about someone online. (This may or may not be the result of stalking their social media accounts with investigation skills the FBI would be impressed with).

Why does your reaction matter?

Your reaction is more important than you might think. Your response could open or close the door to future conversations about relationships. So, stay calm. Privately you can react as honestly as you want. You might be panicking that they are growing up so fast, or you’re happy for them, or you’re celebrating because after 30 years of having them around the house, it looks like they might finally start a relationship and move out.

Some parents tend to minimise these new feelings. Many instantly respond with teasing, telling their child they are too young for such feelings and their child is left confused, saying, “Mum, I’m only nine and I just held his hand.”

The goal is to not shame your child for having these feelings because they are incredibly normal. What we want is to teach them are healthy ways to understand and manage these new feelings. Here are a few ideas on how to have that conversation.

Don’t talk, listen

Okay, so you can’t just listen. But instead of jumping in with advice or objections or jokes, try and ask some genuine questions. Try and listen to their heart.

  • What do you think a good relationship is?
  • What qualities do you think are important in people?
  • What does it feel like to know that someone else finds you attractive?
  • What is more important – how someone looks or who someone is?
  • How do you think you would feel if you found out that the person that you have feelings for doesn’t have feelings for you?

If you want them to listen to any of your thoughts about relationships, listen to their thoughts first.

Reassure them that if things go bad, you will be there

Most young people have seen enough sitcoms to know that people feel amazing when they find out that the person that they like also likes them. But they are yet to experience the pain of finding out the person they have feelings for may not always have feelings for them.

So let us remind you of a simple human truth – break-ups hurt, even when you only went out for three lunchtimes. Break-ups hurt, even when you’re 12.

Letting your child know that there is another side to the happy feelings they are experiencing is important. What is more important is letting them know that if they ever experience those feelings, they can talk to you about it and you’ll take them seriously.

What advice should you give them?

The secret to any good relationship is great communication. Teaching them how to have great conversations now will set them up for a lifetime of love.

So give them ideas on how to be good at talking to someone that they like. An easy way to do that is by teaching them to ask good questions. Questions like –

  • What was the best thing and worst thing about your day?
  • What is your dream holiday?
  • If you had a million dollars to spend what would you spend it on?
  • If you could be the world champion at something what would it be?
  • What was your first day of starting a new school like?
  • What’s your favourite thing about your family?

There are lots of things that you need to talk to your kids about when they first enter the romance game. But if it turns out that their relationship is more serious than going to the park and holding hands, then you might want to check out this article – How to talk to your kids about: Sex.

It can feel scary when your children begin to develop romantic feelings, because romantic feelings can make it seem like your child has all of a sudden become an adult. We want our kids to have successful relationships in the future, so let’s help them manage their feelings and relationships well while they’re young.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.


About Author

Christian Gallen

Christian is a Senior Presenter and National Trainer for Attitude. He has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long presenting career. Christian manages all the social media and online content for Attitude and is passionate about seeing young people make great choices online and offline.

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