How to help your tween through their first breakup

Nikki Stevenson
Nikki Stevenson
Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Updated on Jan 21, 2024 · 5 mins read

When your child was younger, you heard other parents talking about this in hushed whispers and hands on their hearts. You probably pushed it to the back of your mind, knowing it was a long time until you had to face it yourself. And now it’s here – the dreaded first breakup and heartbreak. If your tween is not the only one walking around with a broken heart and tissues, we feel you. Watching your child go through something that is largely out of your control is devastating, no matter how inevitable it may be. Now wipe your tears, take a deep breath and get ready. Because there are things you can do as a parent to help your young teenager through this tough time – and not just breaking out the ice cream (but there’s nothing wrong with that either!)

First breakup: A teen’s emotions

When a tween experiences their first breakup, it can be overwhelming. They may feel like their world has ended and that they will never find someone who loves them again. Your kneejerk reaction may be to tell them that this break-up doesn’t matter and that they won’t even remember it in the big scheme of things. Don’t do that.

Remember, while their problems may seem small to you, they are big to them. It is essential to validate their feelings and let them know that it is normal to feel sad and upset. According to a study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, parental validation of children’s emotions can help reduce distress and improve emotional regulation in children.

Remind them that they will get through this and find happiness again in the future.

Listening to your child and letting them express their emotions is also important. Avoid dismissing their feelings or trying to minimise the situation. Instead, be empathetic and offer a listening ear. Your tween may need time to process their emotions, and talking about their feelings can be helpful.

Tweens’ first heartbreak: helping them cope

In addition to listening, you can help your tween cope with their first heartbreak in several ways. Nudge them to do activities they enjoy, such as playing sports or spending time with friends. These can help take their mind off the breakup and provide a sense of normalcy.

Spend time bonding with them, where you don’t talk about the breakup, feelings or ex. Tap into things they enjoy doing with you and try to offer that as a healthy distraction. Having them feel close to you will also give them the sense of security they need during this time. While they may not admit it, having you around is proverbial chicken soup for the soul.

Make sure they are taking care of themselves. Point out the benefits of getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly. We know that these things can help boost moods and make people feel better overall – doing them as a tween when going through a breakup is no different.

Another way to help your child cope with their heartbreak is to encourage them to express themselves creatively. Whether it’s through writing, drawing, or painting, creative expression can be a powerful tool for processing emotions. They don’t necessarily have to write or draw about what they are going through; just the creative acts themselves help calm and balance.

Tweens’ first breakup: Is it the worst?

The first break-up as a tween can feel very intense and difficult to cope with, but whether or not it is the “worst” breakup can vary from person to person.

For many tweens, the first break-up can feel especially painful because they may not have experienced a romantic relationship before and may not have developed the emotional tools to deal with heartbreak. They are also still developing their sense of self and identity, and a breakup can feel like a rejection of who they are as a person.

Talking to them about their worth and how it is not tied to another’s opinion of them will help them deal with the rejection that comes with the first breakup.

Tweens’ feelings and emotions: Talking about love and relationships

Talking about love and relationships with your tween can also be helpful. While it may be uncomfortable, try to have an open and honest conversation with them about healthy relationships and boundaries. Use this experience as an opportunity to teach them about healthy communication, mutual respect, and the importance of self-love.

How to talk to your tween about love

The above is all good and well, assuming that your tween isn’t mortified by you mentioning the breakup or trying to bring up the topics of love and relationships. If you are having to push through slammed doors, eye rolls or complete avoidance, here are some tips on how to create an environment where they may just open up:

  • Create a safe and comfortable environment where your tween feels like they can ask questions and express their thoughts and feelings without being judged or embarrassed. You could start by initiating a conversation while doing something else like cooking, walking, or driving so it doesn’t feel like an intense one-on-one conversation.
  • Try your hand at using age-appropriate language when talking to tweens about love and relationships. Avoid using overly complicated language or technical terms that they may not understand. Instead, use language that they can relate to and understand. You may not want to dive head first into Urban Dictionary using all the new-age slang (eye rolls will be awaiting) – but speaking to their age will definitely help.
  • Sharing personal experiences can help make the conversation more relatable and less intimidating. Share stories about your experiences, how you navigated relationships, and the challenges that come with them. This can also help your tween feel more comfortable sharing their own experiences and asking questions.

We know this is a tough time for them and you. Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Seeing your child in pain can be difficult, and it’s essential to ensure you are taking care of your emotional needs. Know that while it may be tough to watch your child go through their first break-up, there are things you can do to help them cope and come out stronger on the other side. By listening, validating their feelings, encouraging healthy habits and communication, and taking care of yourself, you can help your child navigate this difficult time and build resilience for the future.

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