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Mending Your Teen’s Broken Heart:

tips for parents on helping your teen through a break up

 
Submitted to the Empowerment Magazine by Sue Goetz, LCSW

Ahhh, young love: So optimistic, and yet so tragic… sometimes both on the same day.  Sound familiar?  This article is all about how to help your teen cope as their facebookrelationship status gets dropped back to single.  Although your teen may have only been “going out with” or “talking to” their ex for a short while, keep in mind that teen years are like dog years – everything seems longer, they celebrate one week anniversaries, etc – and that without the life experience to trust they will find love again, heartbreak ensues. 

How to help your teen through a break-up:

Active listening - no interrupting, no advice unless they ask for it or you ask them if they’d like your input, ask how you can support them.  At the same time… Don’t dwell on their break-up by reminding them several times a day by inquiring or being overly sympathetic when they’re not overtly upset

 It’s best to reassure when they’re obviously upset, and keep up the positive messages you give them about their self-worth.  Teens’ feelings come and go like the wind, and they may be over this before you know it, so we don’t want to keep them stuck. 

Avoid saying, “I understand” – even if you think you DO understand, the words, “I understand”, are rarely useful.  Instead, show your teen you understand by reflecting back to them things they are saying, or telling a story of a break-up you had as a teen and how you were feeling at that time.  (e.g., “I remember feeling like I’d never meet anyone after so-and-so and I broke-up”)

Realize they may not want to talk to you much about it, and that’s okay.  Make sure they get the message that you’re available to listen or talk if/when they’d like.

If you mean it, tell them they can wake you up at night if need be - hopefully that won’t happen often, but the feelings that come up when the house is quiet can be daunting with no one to talk to.

 

 

Give them lots of love – hugs, affection, encouragement, positive messages about who they are and their attractiveness (I know, I know, that last one sounds bad but it’s not uncommon for teens to feel ugly and unlovable after a break-up)

Encourage creative outlets - artwork, creating or listening to music, sports, journaling.  Feelings will change from day to day and week to week, and journaling is an empowering way for them to reflect and track their healing process.

 

 

Encourage good self-care – eating enough and eating healthily, sleeping enough, exercising, reaching out to their friends, treating themselves with special care during this difficult time

Encourage more time with friends and family – it’s not uncommon for teens to have backed away from some of their friendships in favor of spending time with their love interest, and a break-up is a good time to reconnect.  Reassure them that friends are usually understanding of this.  Take advantage of this down time to plan family and/or one-on-one activities with your teen. 

“Educate them” on normal feelings in break-ups – teens are relatively inexperienced when it comes to break-ups.  Anytime we’re in a new situation, it’s helpful for them to know what to expect and to hear that what we’re experiencing isn’t crazy. 

 

 

Let your teen know they won’t always feel this bad about the situation, that break-ups are a pretty universal human experience, and that most people don’t end up with the first person they’ve ever gone out with.

 It’s common to romanticize and remember only the good times, but it’s more helpful to remind oneself about the ex’s flaws and lacks in the relationship as well.  Let them know it’s not uncommon to fear, “I’ll never find anybody else”, “no one will love me”, “[the ex] will move on before me”, “I’ll never stop loving [the ex]”, and so on. 

 

 

Fear is just fear.  These fears are not reality based. Let them mope around.  People are so afraid of allowing themselves to feel their feelings.  I know you don’t want to see your child hurting.  They are not going to want to stay on the couch in their jammies forever. 

 

 

It’ll be temporary.  If it’s not temporary, you’ll handle it then - don’t panic till you need to panic.When to panic: Panic if they are expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings or plans.  Panic if they are cutting on themselves or engaging in other self-harm behavior.  Panic if they don’t seem to be feeling any better as the weeks progress.  Panic if they are totally isolating themselves.  Actually… don’t panic, just pay attention and know that these are good times to get professional help.

 

 

If you’re interested in subscribing to Sue’s free bimonthly e-newsletter on tips for teens, please sign up online at www.hopeintherapy.com

Sue Goetz is a licensed psychotherapist/ counselor in private practice, working with adolescents, adults, and families.  Meeting with her for therapy can be really helpful when struggling with troubles including but not limited to: depression, anxiety/ overwhelm, transitions (e.g., divorce), family conflict, and high-risk behavior (e.g., these warning signs).  She is also trained in a therapeutic technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is highly effective in work with trauma, including abuse, complicated grief, bullying, and phobias. www.hopeintherapy.com