3 don’ts when helping your child through a breakup

Mar 6, 2014, 5:00 PM | Updated: 5:00 pm
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As a marriage and family therapist, I learned in my schooling that one of the most important tasks that children learn in adolescence is how to navigate romantic relationships. I also learned that that's one of the parts of the brain that is developing the most during adolescence. So it's important for children to learn this so that their social development doesn't get stunted. This is perhaps one of the reasons there's so much “drama.” It's because children are learning how to navigate relationships with a new (more developed) understanding.

As a parent, you like to see when your child experiences the good times of a relationship. But when the breakups come, which they almost always do, it can be tough. It's tough because you want to help them, but you're often met with “you just don't understand me” and other typical teenage responses. So below are some tips on how to help your child through a breakup in ways that they will listen to and understand (and here are some more tips on raising confident children).

1) Don't tell them what to do. One key developmental area that children are also learning in adolescence is how to be autonomous. That's why children often become more rebellious in their adolescence and argue more. So when you try to tell them what to do about something in their personal life, they're less likely to accept it and more likely to view you as “being bossy.”

Instead of giving advice, tell them personal stories about a time when you experienced something similar to what they're going through. Tell them how you resolved it and how it turned out. Let them ask you questions but don't feel forced to come up with solutions on the spot. This not only makes you come across as less “bossy”, but it also helps them learn to be autonomous and learn how to make good decisions in relationships — which are both critical elements of their development.

2) Don't try to fix it. As mentioned above, developmentally, your teenager is learning how to be autonomous. That means they are learning how to make good decisions and how to stay away from bad ones. They learn this by making choices and seeing the outcomes of them.

If you, as a concerned parent, try to step in to fix their break up, they won't know what outcomes came from you intervening or what outcomes came from their own decisions and actions. Instead, offer advice when asked and even offer to do the things they ask you to do that they think might help. Then talk with them about their choices and help them to see the results of their decisions or actions. Not only will this help them through their current breakup it will help them through future ones when you're not there.

3) Don't get preachy. A lot of times our children date someone that we don't approve of. And despite all our warnings and urging they date them anyway. So when they get their heart broken you can't help but want to say “See? I told you so.” And then you want to discourse about how what you said was going to happen actually did happen. And you want to re-iterate how they should have listened to you in the first place.

Well, not only is this a good way to strain your relationship with your teenager, this is also a good way to make them feel even worse during their breakup. Instead of preaching to them about “I told you so” put yourself aside and be there for them. Listen to their heartache and sadness and be a shoulder to cry on. They'll see that you were right on their own — even if it takes a few years.

Aaron Anderson is a therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert.Checkout his blog RelationshipRx.net for expert relationship information – without the psychobabble.

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3 don’ts when helping your child through a breakup