Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Apologies to the Bee Gees.

Young love is adorable. Seriously. You know, the sweet, innocent, first-love type of love. Young love means you'll see your teen coming home grinning ear to ear, and you don't even have to ask why. Young love is late night FaceTime chats that you let go because did I mention it's adorable? It's celebrating one month anniversaries and having to go to the store to help pick out a flower or a card. It's seeing your teen be "romantic" and getting a first look at the kind of significant other he's going to be.

Young love is also heart crushing. Especially the first one. It's hearing muffled sobs coming from behind a closed door. It's hearing the TV on at 3 am because sleep is elusive to him. It's watching your teen experience and process one of the most emotional and difficult phases of life - the breakup.

There is no more powerless feeling a parent can have than knowing that your child is hurting and there is really nothing you can do. That this gut wrenching event was bound to happen and they have to go through it and work it out in their own time and in their own way.

Although you can't "fix" it for them (and nor should you, as well as a multitude of life events that happen to your kids), there are a few things you can do that may help your teen while he or she processes these new emotions - hurt, disappointment, sadness, and loss.

I'm so very lucky in that my teen and I can talk easily about a lot of things. But when it comes to matters of the heart, it's important to tread lightly. It's easy - especially with all of my relationship experience - to tell them how to feel or what to do or what will "get them out of it." Here are a few pointers that I found to be effective as you stand on the sidelines watching your child hurt. As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

Acknowledge his feelings.
When you learn of the breakup, simply let your teen know that you agree that it sucks - even if you don't. To him it does. Whether you think the breakup was for the best or not, your teen is hurting and doesn't need to be told "I told you so." Tell him you're so sorry. Tell him you understand why he is upset. Tell him his feelings are valid.

Let him talk - if he wants to.
Some kids may slam the door to their room and refuse to talk about it. Shoot, probably many teens will. But encourage them to talk to you. Then listen. Don't ask a lot of questions. Don't offer advice at this point. Let them purge what happened and the more they talk, the more you will almost be able to see their little brains processing what just happened to them.

Relate to his situation.
I'm sure we can all remember a time when we had our heart broken. For many of us it was during the teenage years. Put yourself back in that place and time and remember how you felt. As adults, we now kind of know the modus operandi of heartbreak. Your teen doesn't. If you can show him that you were once in his place and felt the same feelings, it will help him understand that his feelings really are normal. After my first breakup, I remember this hot wave coming over me, then feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. I cried for days, slept like crap and barely ate. I was convinced I would never be happy again. Your teen needs to hear that and see that you are, in fact, still standing.

Tell him what YOU did.
OK, so now he knows you know how he feels. But what then? Tell him how you worked through it - the good, the bad and the ugly. Tell him what embarrassed you about it and what you were proud of. Tell him what you learned and what you would and wouldn't do again. See, while you're doing this, you're giving him options without giving him advice directly, which is kind of the last thing he wants.

Mom him when you can.
Don't ask if he's hungry. He's not. Pick up his favorite food or a smoothie and just set it in front of him and walk away - I bet it's at least picked at when you return. Don't ask if he wants to go somewhere or do something. He probably doesn't. Ask for his help or assistance on little errands, then see if getting out helps his mood and suggest lunch or ice cream. A change of scenery does wonders - we know that; he doesn't.

Make promises.
Not the ones you can't keep - the ones you know to be true. Tell him you PROMISE that he will not feel this way forever. Tell him you PROMISE that he will find someone to love and who will love him again. Tell him that you PROMISE that very soon, every day will start to get a little easier. Tell him you PROMISE that he is worthy of love and that despite what he thinks right now, he will he will experience those feelings again.

Let him be sad.
One thing I hate is when you are upset and people tell you not to be. Your teen is sad. Tell him it's OK to be sad and that he has a right to be sad. Again, relate your experiences to him. Let him have a little time to throw his own pity party and work things out in his head a little. Sometimes that will mean talking to friends, sometimes it may be playing loud music. Sometimes that might just mean sitting there and not saying or doing anything at all.

Stay close.
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I'll throw out there. Your teen is experiencing a whole new set of emotions that he isn't familiar with or used to dealing with. Don't discount them as "that's life." To him, this is HUGE. And with times as they are now, teens are reacting differently to crisis situations - sometimes desperately. Keep an eye on him and watch for any behavior that may be detrimental to his safety. If you suspect your teen may be experiencing these feelings, trust your gut and get him some help. Even if it's a one-time conversation with a therapist or someone experienced in dealing with teens, that person will be able to better determine what the course of action should be, if any.

Above all, just be there. Be there when your teen wants to talk, and let him know you're there even when he doesn't. Understand that heartbreak is a roller coaster, and some days he'll feel great and others he may be down in the dumps again. Let him work through his emotions as only he can do with the capacity he has, but step in when you can see it's becoming overwhelming. Show him that life is worth loving, and love is worth living for.