When you are in your teens, a breakup can feel like the end of the world. Your teen will still see their former beau at school or at social gatherings, and this can get even more awkward if they have the same friend group. Facing the person who broke up with you every day can be difficult – especially if they seem to be moving on.
As a parent, this can be heartbreaking to watch. You want to help your child and prevent them from harm, but they might not want you to intervene. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms and needs their own space to get over a breakup. Here are a few ways to help your teen get over a breakup in a healthy, mature manner.
Understanding the Five Stages of Grief
Even if your teen only dated their significant other for a short time, they will likely work through the five stages of grief. You might think they are handling the breakup well, but they could just be in one stage before they move on to the next. Here are what the five stages look like within the context of a breakup:
- Denial: They think this isn’t the end and they will get back together again. Your teen hangs out with their friends and is in a good mood.
- Anger: This is when they are most likely to say or do something you might regret. In this phase, teens send angry text messages, make inflamed social media posts, or even physically attack their ex and their belongings. These are not healthy coping mechanisms and your teen might lash out at their friends and your family.
- Bargaining: In this phase, your teen will try to win back their ex, promising changes and favors.
- Depression: This phase often looks like self-doubt. Your teen will question who they are and wonder if anyone will ever love them. This can be heartbreaking for a parent to see.
- Acceptance: In the final phase, your teen accepts the breakup and is ready to move on.
Every person goes through different stages of grief in different ways. Some people spend days feeling angry and betrayed after a breakup. As a parent, you can help your teen get over a breakup if they are willing to accept your help. At the very least, you can be there for them during this difficult time.
How to Help Your Teen Get Over a Breakup
As a parent, you might have complex feelings about this breakup. You could feel relief if you didn’t like your child’s significant other. You could feel like not a big deal if the relationship was short. However, your feelings aren’t important right now. Regardless of what you are going through, the focus is on helping your son and daughter. Here are a few things to consider as they go through a breakup:
- Don’t minimize the severity of the break-up. You see a short-lived high-school relationship. Your child thinks they lost their first love. Try to let your teen go through their emotions fully and validate their feelings.
- Avoid lecturing. Yes, you have more experience with relationships than they do. However, now is not the time to lecture them about choosing better people to date or getting over their hurt. The best thing you can do is listen.
- Don’t get involved. Now is not the time to reach out to the other parents, the school, or your child’s friend group. Your job isn’t to fix this and you could make the situation much worse.
- Share your own stories. If your teen is willing, share your own stories of terrible breakups. Talk about how long it took you to recover and what helped you climb out of your depression. This shows that you know what they are going through.
Your main job right now is to help your teen cope in a healthy manner. You want to create a healthy space for them to grieve while preventing them from hurting themselves or others. Essentially, you want to create a safe space for them.
Tips to Help Your Teen Grieve
Along with listening and providing emotional support, there are concrete steps you can take to help your teen get over a breakup. You can’t take their pain away but can make them feel more comfortable. Here are a few things to try.
- Help them practice self-care. If your teen is hurting, make sure they are still eating, showing up, and moving around – even if their exercise is limited to short walks around the neighborhood.
- Let them enjoy treats and special experiences. Eating ice cream while watching the sunset doesn’t make a break-up less painful, but it does help a little. Look for small ways to help your teen cope with special activities and ways to show your support.
- Bring in friends and other support lines. Your teen probably doesn’t want to hang out with you right now. Allow them to invite their friends over and connect with other people who can understand their problems.
- Give them a break from stressors. While your teen still has school and other obligations, look for ways to lessen the load. They likely wouldn’t be completely focused during a tutoring session or SAT prep course anyway.
- Keep your teen busy. It is tempting to wallow in your sadness, but this depression can’t last. Look for ways to distract your teen or re-engage them with life so they can move out of the grieving process.
Finally, give your teen time. They won’t move through the stages of grief in a day and will require a few days or weeks to feel normal again. Know that they might also experience setbacks when they run into their ex or encounter a painful memory.
Get Ready for a Roller Coaster of Emotions
Even the most logical, level-headed people can lose their cool during a break-up. This happens during the teenage years and throughout adulthood. You might think that your teen is coping well at first, only for them to get hit with a wave of emotions.
If your teen has started dating, they might benefit from our Healthy Relationships courses. These programs are presented through the Dibble Institute’s Relationships Smarts program. Developed for teens ages 15-18, this curriculum can help you improve communication, navigate relationships on social media, and learn to set boundaries for yourself.
Learn more about these programs to see if they are right for your teen.