Helping your teen deal with heartbreak: when to back off and when to be there.
A teen breakup can be just as heartbreaking for you as it is for your child. While it’s tough to see your child go through something that devastates their whole world, it’s just as hard, but important, to accept that this is part of life and that going through these upsets contributes to their growth and also teaches love.
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Whether the relationship ended based on a mutual decision or your teen was treated unfairly or messed up on his/her part, a breakup can feel like the end of the world for your teen.
As much as you’d love to wave a magic-wand and make all their pain and hurt disappear, there are important parenting-strategies to utilise here that might help to make things easier for your teen during the grieving process.
This is key to understanding and knowing what stage of the breakup your child is at. If you have managed to develop a close and strong relationship with your teen, you might be the first person that they feel they can open up to, but don’t take it too personally if they don’t.
You might be familiar with the typical scenario where a teen bursts through the front-door, runs upstairs and slams their bedroom door behind them. You’re answered with, “leave me alone!”when you knock and ask if they’re okay. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t persist straight away. Let them know that you’re there if they want to talk and then back-off a bit until they’re ready.
Be gentle, loving and don’t try and dominate the conversation with them when they do bring it up. They probably haven’t processed everything on their own yet and it’s important that you don’t try and manipulate what and how they should feel.
Give time to grieve
Some teens get over things quicker than others, but in most cases it can seem to take ages before they’re really over things. With any heartbreak the only way to get past it is to go through it and as much as you don’t want to see your teen so upset, don’t expect or push them into getting over things overnight.
Give them some space and try not to intrude or think you can be there for them every step of the way. Your teen will probably open up to you once they've processed and grieved on their own.
If and when your teen is ready to open up to you about the breakup try and listen to the whole story before offering opinion or advice. Don’t interject while they’re telling you their story with your own judgements or feelings on the matter. Save your questions and concerns for afterwards.
Being a good listener is often more effective than anything else and it allows your child a chance to say things out loud, possibly for the first time since the relationship came to an end.
Being a good listener isn't just about sitting there and ‘hearing’ what they’re saying, it’s about understanding how and why they feel the way they do, even if you think you have all the answers.
Think back to your first heartbreak and remember what it felt like. For most, a breakup left us with those gut-wrenching, end-of-the-world and “nobody loves me” sorts of feelings. Even if the reasons and causes for the break-up don’t feel like they warrant the extent of emotions and upset to you now, your child might feel as though life has come crashing down on them.
DON’T try and relate your own teen-breakup stories to your teen. As much as you might think this will give them a sense of perspective, they haven’t finished going through it yet and they’re likely to think that your experiences back-in-the-day were completely different to his/hers.
It’s hard to know exactly when your teen is starting to accept what has happened and when they’re ready to start moving on. They’re likely to be more open and talkative about things once they’re over the initial trauma and heartache.
When they’re more open about things and when they start talking about aspects of their life other than their breakup, this might be a good time to be more actively involved in the grieving process.
Without nagging or being persistent, suggest an outing or a fun activity to do together. Your teen might want to be around their best-friend for a while first and that’s fine too.
Let your teen know that they are loved and that just because one person or experience might not have made them feel that way, it doesn't mean that it will always be that way.
Do you remember what your first heartbreak was like?