How can I support my teenager through a relationship breakup?

If your teenager is going through a relationship breakup, it can be hard to know how to support them. As a parent, it is upsetting to see your child hurting and it may even bring up painful memories of your own relationships and separations.

While you may want to see them bounce back to normal, healing from a heartbreak is a natural process that takes time and will be different for each person.

Feelings and behaviour after a breakup

There is no right or wrong way for a teenager to feel after a breakup, they may feel a mix of:

  • Disbelief.
  • Anger.
  • Sadness.
  • Loneliness.
  • Lack of interest.
  • Regret, guilt or shame.
  • Jealousy.

These feelings are common in any relationship breakup. For teenagers these emotions can be extra hard for them to cope with because there are a lot of changes happening in their brain at that age.

It’s likely you will see changes in your child’s behaviour. They might react by:

  • Spending time alone – they might spend time in their bedrooms listening to emotional music, they may not want to talk to you about it.
  • Going out – they might start going out with friends more, drinking or using drugs, they might even move on quickly with another partner and try to make their ex jealous.
  • Being angry – they could be more irritable with you and other people in their life, they might be rude or aggressive.

This change in behaviour might affect their schoolwork and activities and can be disruptive to the whole family. Remember, this time will pass. This may be their first real test in resilience and as a parent, you can help them to come to terms with their emotions and feel better.

How to support your child through a breakup

  • Let them know you are there for them though don’t push for them to talk if they don’t want to.
  • When they feel like talking, make time to listen. You can follow our advice for active listening.
  • Try not to say horrible things about their ex – you can listen and reflect to them what we hear them say, but not to join in. This will help to model healthy relationship endings.
  • Don’t minimise their feelings. Even though you know they will ‘get over it’, their feelings are very real at this time.
  • If your child is the one who ended the relationship, respect their choices. Even if you feel like you had a bond with their ex, it is their decision, and you must support them.
  • Be patient and prepared to accept some grumpy behaviour, crying, music being played, and staying out a bit later.
  • Try to distract your child by introducing some fun things to do, a day out, or ask them to help you with a project at home.
  • Show your child they are loved and very special. Help them to remember and see the wonderful qualities they have.

When to seek extra support

If your child does not seem to improve with time after the end of their relationship or seems to slip into a depression, then it may be advisable to seek some extra support from a GP or counselling service. 

If your child has existing mental health conditions, a breakup can be extra hard for them, so be aware they may need more support. 

If your child is having suicidal thoughts then speak to a GP and create a safety plan with them. 

For further advice: 

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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