How to Help Your Teen Deal With a Breakup

Here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
By Gena Ellis
December 16, 2021

One of the most challenging things for a parent to handle is when their child experiences pain. Whether it’s a scraped knee from learning to ride a bike or a bump on the chin from running around, you hurt when your child hurts. Sadly, you can’t always protect them as they grow up. For example, there’s heartbreak after a relationship has ended. How do you help your teen with the pain of a breakup when all you want to do is stop them from hurting? 

It can be tricky, but these do’s and don’ts can guide you as you try to help your teen deal with a breakup.

Do:

Recognize that breaking up is a process.

Today’s breakup looks different from the old-school breakup, which may have included burning everything tied to the ex. These days, it takes time for the relationship to end.

Empathize with what your teen is feeling.

Say something like, I would imagine this is hard. Or ask, What can I do to help? This lets your teen know that you care and are there for them when they need it.

Try to be a good listener.

Now’s the time to practice your listening skills. Be open to what your teen says. Take advantage of the little moments. When you ask with care and gentleness, they become more receptive and less defensive.

Expect emotions. 

It may sound cliché, but breaking up is hard to do. Your teen may experience various emotions, ranging from anger, disappointment, embarrassment, loneliness, or sadness. Support them as they feel what they feel.

Understand that breakups cause ripple effects in different areas of their lives.

So much of your teen’s life is interconnected, so being aware of how the breakup affects the different parts is huge. School is a prime example. Are they in the same clubs or classes with their ex? Will friends choose sides? And let’s not forget what happens on IG or Snapchat. 

Help your teen process what they learned about themselves from the relationship and the breakup.

The process of dating teaches teens things like:

  • what they like
  • what they don’t like,
  • who is a good match for them and who isn’t 

Your teen also learns what was good about the relationship, what they discovered about themselves from the relationship, and what they would do differently going forward.

Share with your teen that breakups are a natural part of dating relationships.

As your teen continues to date, there will probably be more breakups when at least one party isn’t enjoying the relationship anymore. And since most people don’t marry the person they date as teenagers, lead your child to learn more about themselves and how they will date differently.

Encourage them to get back to their “normal” routine.

After the initial shock of the breakup, encourage your teen to get back into the swing of things. If you loosen the rules about chores or allow them to take time off from their part-time job, they may need some motivation to get back on track. 

Watch for signs that they aren’t bouncing back. Seek professional help when necessary.

Experiencing grief and sadness after a breakup is normal, but be aware if you notice prolonged changes to their regular eating or sleeping patterns. Do they complain of stomach aches or headaches? Avoiding school? Yes, teens have wonky sleeping and eating habits, so it can be hard to tell. This is recognizing changes in your child’s patterns.

Don’t:

Try to fix it.

Accept that you can’t fix this. Support your teen as they go through it. Calling their ex’s parents only complicates things. 

Make it about you.

When talking with your teen, keep the focus on them. Yes, you have personal experiences, but share the lessons you learned without overidentifying. Encourage them to become the best version of themselves, not a carbon copy of you.

Allow them to vent exclusively via technology. (Facebook, IG, Snapchat, etc.)

The internet isn’t the place to air feelings or grievances about the ex, relationship, and breakup. Once it’s out there, everyone can see it – forever.

Minimize the relationship. 

Most teen relationships develop out of parents’ view, either in school or via technological means (e.g., text, FaceTime, messaging, etc.). The relationship may not seem genuine or a big deal to you. However, it’s front and center in your teen’s life.

Don’t bad mouth the ex – even if it’s true.

Saying negative things to cheer up your teen isn’t helpful. (Things like, They weren’t good enough for you, or I didn’t like them anyway.) Teens often get back together. Try to show support without tearing others down.

No matter how much you want to keep your children from experiencing pain, it’s inevitable. Guiding them toward more self-awareness and resilience through the breakup process can help them grow and remember the purpose of healthy dating. Then, you can frame the breakup as a success, not a failure. Dating is about finding a good match. At this time, it wasn’t a good one for them. Dating worked. They figured it out.

Other blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships – First Things First

Dating Violence in the Digital Age – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

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