Ah, young love.
Adolescence brings many firsts, including the first big crush, the first foray into dating, and the first heartbreak. Those experiences and the accompanying intense emotions can leave parents wondering just what they should do and say, especially with Valentine's Day shining the spotlight on relationships.
For advice on the subject, I turned to Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC, a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection, and offers great advice for parentings navigating new territory. She kindly answered my questions and offered sound advice for parents on navigating tween and teen romance.
Tween Us: The first crush carries so many intense emotions. Should parents say anything? Or just stay out of it?
Laird: It is always important for parents to convey the message to their children that they are there for them. Teens and tweens, especially, need to feel accepted by their parents when it comes to their emotions. This is a time to be empathetic to your child.
Never belittle their feelings, or assume what they feel is insignificant or less real due to their age. Parents should convey the message that they are available to talk and listen if need be.
It is also extremely important to keep eyes and ears open. If their teen is in a dangerous relationship, staying “out of it” will not help the teen “get out of it."
The first heartbreak really can be a huge blow to a child, and it's hard for parents to watch. Are there do's and don'ts parents should follow to help their child as much as possible?
It is understandable that parents have a difficult time finding the right words to say in order to comfort their hurting child. Sometimes parents feel that what they are saying is helpful, but seems to make the child more upset.
Parents should simply listen to their child. Offering advice is usually unsuccessful.
Avoid minimizing the teen’s experience by calling it “puppy love” or express they are too young to be in love. Avoid putting down the significant other as well. Doing so may make your child feel as though they have to defend that person or that you don’t fully understand what your teen is experiencing.
It seems that sometimes parents are as upset as the child at a break-up. Any advice on where to draw the line between empathizing and sympathizing and not getting too caught up in it and being the adult?
Sometimes a break up can impact multiple members of the family. It is common for parents to also experience loss after their teen’s breakup. It is important for parents to be aware of their own feelings and cope separately from their teen.
Avoid making your teen feel guilty for having broken up with their significant other. If it is too difficult to discuss the breakup with your teen, plan for another time or ask another trusted adult to support your teen.
The sadness that follows a break-up can be intense. What behaviors are a sign that the child needs additional help dealing with those feelings and parents should seek professional help for their child?
While some temporary sadness and withdrawal are normal responses to a breakup, there are some red flags that suggest your teen may need some professional help in order to cope. If your child appears to be extremely sad, cries often, expresses feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, has changes in sleep and eating habits, disinterest in previously enjoyed hobbies, or is using drugs and alcohol, it is time to reach out to a mental health professional.
Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago, IL. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection in Lincoln Park. Read more about Rita at: IFCcounseling.com
You can find Individual and Family Connection on Facebook, too.
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