If your child has split up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, should you try to help or take a back seat? Tips include: listen, don't try to fix it and don't talk about yourself. By High50's Paula Greenspan
Picture the scene: your teenager storms through the front door, dramatically slams it shut and stomps up to their bedroom. The sound of sobbing from inside can only mean one thing.
Whether they've ended the relationship or been dumped, one thing's for sure. Their world has completely stopped spinning. And now, it's up to you to help them pick up the pieces and move on. But where do you start?
A Teen's Reaction To A Broken Heart
You never know how a teenager will react to a breakup. For some kids, it'll seem like water off a duck's back but others will really struggle to deal with it. The most important thing that you can do is sit back, follow their lead and let them respond however they need to, with no judgement. There's no right and wrong here. Regaling them with stories of your own past heartbreak should be avoided. This is your teen's time to talk
As a parent, watching your child suffer in any way can be like sheer torture. But dealing with a relationship breakup is very different from how you would have handled a childhood skinned knee years ago. Mummy's kiss and a plaster aren't going to heal this one. And it really shouldn't, either.
Because in this case, you've got to let your teen deal with it themselves. No matter how much you want to make things better for them, if you wade in every time something goes wrong they'll become dependent on you to solve all of their problems.
As painful as it is for both of you, this break-up is a good way to help your child learn to deal with disappointment of any kind. And also to learn that when life hits you hard, it's OK to hurt for a while.
"Don't Try To Fix It"
Author and 'teenologist' Sarah Newton agrees. "Don't try to fix it," she says. "Saying things like: 'It will get better' and 'There are plenty more fish in the sea' won't help.
"Don't push them to talk but allow them what they need."
It's a difficult thing to do but taking a step back, while showing that you're still there for your child, will help to make them stronger in the long run.
Listen, But Don't Talk Or Take Sides
The fact is, you might be relieved about the breakup. Thrilled, even. Especially if you find out that your child has been cheated on or treated badly. But wading in with "I never liked him anyway" is not going to make anything better.
Taking sides -- even your child's side -- might make your son or daughter angry and defensive of the very person who's caused the hurt. In the long run it just heightens the drama of the situation and that's only going to make things drag on for longer than they need to.
So what can you say?
"I'm here for you if you need help in any way," shows your child that you're available and supportive, but gives them a chance to decide how they feel about what's happened without any interference. After that, you may not be asked to help at all. Teenagers often speak to their friends instead of their parents. But they might just want a hug or some ice cream. Or maybe they'll want to tell you what happened.
If Your Child Wants To Talk
If your child does want to talk, get them to tell you about it. Telling the story of the breakup -- without opinions or interruptions -- will give your child a chance to process what they've been through and learn from the experience.
As you're chatting, it's a good idea to summarise and repeat what you've heard. You can also ask how your child is feeling. But giving advice and regaling them with stories of your own past heartbreak should be avoided at all costs. Remember, you're just the sounding board. This is your teen's time to talk.
"Children need to learn emotional intelligence," says Janey Downshire, counsellor and author of Teenagers Translated. "They have to learn how to understand their emotions but not get completely overwhelmed by them."
"The problem with giving advice is that the more the parent owns the problem, the less the child can deal with it themselves. There's a fine line between being available and doing it for them. What a parent offers is an non-judgemental view of the situation. It's not easy to sit back but you have to try to remain objective about it."
When To Help Your Teen
It all sounds a bit clichéd to expect a bereft teen to spend days holed up in their bedroom listening to moody music but sometimes it does happen. And, for a little while, it's OK.
"It's completely normal for a heartbroken child to retreat to their room for a few days," says Janey. "But try to encourage them to do something else."
Without nagging or putting on too much pressure, try to get them to go out. If they don't want to go out with their friends, invite them to the shops or out for lunch with you.
But what if it seems more serious than just moping around the house? Is there a point at which you should get concerned?
"If after two weeks, whatever olive branches you're offering aren't working, it might be a warning flag that things are not OK," Janey says.
"In this situation, I'd offer counselling by saying 'Is there someone else that you'd like to talk to?' This can be all a child needs to kickstart them into getting over the disappointment without the need for counselling after all."
In the end, a bit of sympathy and an ear to listen might be all your child really needs to get over a broken heart.
Sarah Newton has one final piece of advice: "As adults it is easy for us to know this is temporary and they will get over it, but to them it is the end of the world at the moment. Above all, be gentle and understanding."
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