Being a parent means being there for your children. You change their nappies, teach them how to ride a bike and discourage them from eating too many lollies, and then, before you know it they are all grown up and dealing with adult problems like break ups. If you have a son or daughter experiencing a heart break you must be there for them. It is part of being a good parent. Here are some tips on helping your children negotiate that emotional quagmire.
If you have a young person in your life suffering from a broken heart, the last thing you should do is dismiss it. Remember what Rod Stewart said, the first cut is the deepest. Teenagers especially feel things acutely. Remember they have never lived this experience before and heart break really hurts!
Some teens are so private they won’t even tell you they are having romantic problems, but here are the signs to look out for: withdrawing from conversations and spending more time in their room, a loss of appetite, anger, overall changes in their behaviour and of course a drop in their test scores.
What can you do to help if you have a broken hearted child on your hands?
First do not tell your children that you know how they feel, because you don’t exactly. Young adults often feel like the pain is so searing no one else could possibly understand. Better is to say things like, “That must be so hard for you”, “That sounds so difficult to deal with”, “You seem to be going through a really tough time and I’m sorry”.
You also don’t want to tell your son or daughter that they will find someone else, because they are not at that stage. They are grieving for what they have lost. If you suggest they find someone new they will think that you don’t understand the depth of their pain.
Encourage your child to spend time with friends. Do not worry if they spend more time talking to friends than you. Also encourage them to be active with their friends – go skating, bowling, to the movies. I think distractions are good for them when dealing with challenges.
Don’t resent your teen spending time on the phone to friends during this difficult time. Remember you probably did the same. What is most important is that you keep letting your child know that you are there for them.
Should you share your own stories with them?
Your son or daughter needs the focus to be on them. In their heart they feel like this is the worst pain in the world and no one else could have possibly lived through it. You might want to baby them a bit. Make their favourite meals, watch movies and eat chocolates. Also arrange some outings and get them out the door and off the couch. Make it fun and distracting – what about a trip to the zoo or a boat ride?
Perhaps in a couple of weeks when they are through the worst of it you can tell them about your own experiences. Remember this is not about you, it’s about them. Later, when they are stronger, you can bond over heart break stories.
It is also okay to let your child cry. Don’t tell them to buck up, just let them have a good cry if they need to. As a parent it hurts to see your child in pain, but sometimes we just have to go with it. Assure them that they are still a wonderful human and you love them and all their friends love them, but if you’ve been rejected by someone special it does impact your sense of self.
Give them their space
Let your teen retreat when they need to but don’t let them vanish into their bedroom indefinitely. Also you will need to keep your emotional baggage in check. Regardless of what is happening in your life right now, you need to be a tower of support for your child.
Also try to keep it relaxed and normal with your son or daughter. It might not help if you drag them into the lounge and sit down and ask a barrage of questions. Better might be to bring it up when you’re out walking or having a coffee together.
Expect your teens behaviour to be unpredictable during this period. Their emotions will be up and down. One minute they’ll be happy, the next minute sad. Sometimes they will retreat and then out of the blue they will want to talk. Be prepared to stop whatever it is you are doing and talk – let the dinner burn and neglect your work but be there for them when they decide they need to talk to you. The opportunity might not arise again, so be open when they come to you.
Tell them they are great
You do not want to diminish their pain, but gently remind them from time to time how wonderful they are. Remind them that their life is good. They love sport, do well at school or music and have great friends.
Keep checking in on them without driving them crazy.
If after a couple of weeks, your child is still in the depths of despair it might be time to reach out for some professional help.
I also strongly recommend you visit your GP and ask about available mental health support for your child if they do not improve over a couple of weeks.