Adding niche Instagram accounts to my list of ‘follows’ has been a great way for me to find powerful messages and imagery from creative educators and service providers who are able to convey their health-related messages through the medium of photography and graphic design. Their language, their imagery and their message speaks to millennials and younger and keeps me on my toes. This is how I discovered Dr. Lea Lis, the author of this weeks blog post. Dr. Lis is a double board certified Adult and Child psychiatrist who has been working with non-traditional family arrangements since the beginning of her psychiatric career. She considers these families the “New Normal.”
Tips for Teachers
On the subject of childhood relationships — it is not uncommon for children, even in their early and middle school years, to truly fall in love — not sexually, but romantically. We are hard wired to experience bonding and attachment feelings well before sexual desire has kicked in.
As a child psychiatrist, I have seen children fall utterly and crazily “in love” with other children: Speaking about them constantly, wanting to be with them, and jealously guarding them from other friendships. I have seen them absolutely heartbroken after a loss of a childhood friendship, to the point of serious depression and suicidal thoughts (even in a 9-year-old). I am sure that teachers have seen it as well.
Cailee is a 10-year-old girl who met the love of her young life, Sierra, at age 6. They were neighbors and they did everything together, such as sleepovers, play dates, holidays. Cailee’s older sister and Sierra’s older brother began dating, and then Cailee’s sister cheated on Sierra’s older brother. Sierra’s older brother then told Sierra she was no longer allowed to see Cailee. Sierra was told that the family was “bad news” and dishonest. Sierra was no longer allowed to see Cailee and broke up the friendship rapidly with some very fierce insults. Cailee was devastated, crying for days at school , and the teachers were at a loss of how to help. Then Sierra found a new best friend and was often seen at school laughing behind Cailee’s back. Cailee came to me in a deep depression. She could not understand what happened and how it all went wrong, how other students and the teachers were not standing up for her in the class. She thought about killing herself. She felt she would never have another friend again.
Every sad song triggered a flow of tears. She felt she would never be the same. Cailee’s mom was not sympathetic, feeling that she should just get over it and make some new friends. Her teachers ignored her saying that she was being “overly dramatic.” Cailee’s mother tried without avail to get Sierra to talk to Cailee, and at least form some kind of relationship, but Sierra refused.
In treatment, I worked with Cailee to validate her experience and help her process the loss. Years later at age 13, Cailee is still sad, and strangely enough, I feel much of it is over that childhood relationship. She really was in love, and the break up caused her serious emotional damage.
I have seen teens try to commit suicide after a break up. If they had practice in the break up of friendships when they were younger, and if they had help from their teachers in navigating this, they would have been so much better off. It is important to reassure children that it is normal to fall in love with other children.
Rest assured that it doesn’t necessarily indicate the future sexual orientation of the child. Teachers are often on the front lines of these crushes. Many teachers/parents tend to minimize this, thinking it’s not a big deal. When you minimize their feelings you fail to validate your child’s experience. The Dutch have embraced validation in their sexual education curriculum and in their society, feeling that children can indeed fall in love, which is distinctly different from sexual attraction.
If you have a child in this situation, you might like to consider the following tips:
1. Validate the child’s experience: it seems you might have a real love for your friend.
2. Acknowledge the loss: break ups happen. Even of friendship can be hard.
3. Tell them emotions are like a wave: it will rise up make a crest and go down. Grieving over the loss is normal and will get better over time. Sitting with the feeling for a while and crying it out will sometimes make it better.
Distraction can also help. Time will certainty make the grief better. It is common for grade school teachers to talk about crushes between classmates. This validates the heartbreak young children may feel when a relationship ends. That validation can help them grieve the loss in a healthy way— and these experiences provide great lessons for later in life when they begin forming sexual relationships. Embracing their feelings can validate their experience and help them navigate future relationships.
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