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Loss and Grief: Supporting Your StudentDavid Tuttle
A romantic breakup can be challenging for anyone, especially our teens and young adult children who may be experiencing this for the first time. As a parent, it can crush our hearts to see our children suffer emotional heartbreak. It can be especially important to strike the right tone as you talk to them about it.
Here are some ways you can help your student through a breakup:
As parents, we are outsiders. We may not know how serious the relationship had become. When we truly acknowledge the gravity of the situation, we can help our children’s healing process.
In her 20 years helping college students, LaTrina Rogers, aka The Dorm Mom, has seen time and time again that assisting students navigate breakups includes understanding that it is “a loss they have to grieve” and that there simply is no way around this process.
Allowing your child to experience all the feelings and not just dismissing the relationship or simply focusing on the negatives of the other person will give them the opportunity to move through the process of grieving the end of their relationship.
And no matter how much you may have loved your significant other, this is not your breakup and this is not about you. Share any feelings you have about the dissolution of the relationship with a trusted friend or confidant, not with your child.
Often as parents, it is in our nature to give unsolicited advice. After a breakup, your child needs a safe space to express feelings without you jumping in.
Use empathetic listening and similar strategies like giving them your undivided attention. Keep your phones off and away, and defer your judgment to allow your student to really feel heard.
It is natural to want to fix their problem, but do your best to first validate their feelings with active listening. Listen first, don’t blame. When your child is receptive, you can start to provide some perspective.
Gently and lovingly remind your student that they will get through this. The old saying “One day at a time” can be very helpful if your student feels particularly overwhelmed and unmotivated.
Parental assurance that the pain will eventually subside can go a long way in reassuring your child. When asked, helpful advice can also be a source of comfort.
If you draw on personal experiences or those of close friends and family, it can offer real-world examples of people who have suffered through a tough breakup, and come out the other side.
If you are able to physically be there to support your child through this difficult time, that can often be a very big comfort. A hug, a walk around the campus, a Starbucks run, anything you can do together can be a way to stave off post-breakup blues.
If you are unable to be with them, use FaceTime to connect or a Zoom call to help foster the closeness they need to feel less alone. Encouraging self-care can also make a difference in how your child copes.
Even something as simple as a shower can change the way your student feels. Encourage them to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep and continue to stay busy with activities they enjoy.
It may be that despite your best efforts, your student is still feeling run down and depressed. This can impact their studies and health in real and challenging ways. If your child is struggling to cope with the breakup after a few weeks, encourage them to reach out to campus support.
That may be a resident assistant or a mental health counselor at student health services. It can also mean reaching out to professors and letting them know about personal circumstances that may be interfering with their class assignments.
Everyone experiences a breakup differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Dr. Marla Jorgensen, psychology professor and mother of four, summarized it like this when it comes to best advice to parents helping their teen/adult children through a break up: “Be Present. Show them how loved they are and make them feel it”.
Good advice for all of us.
Help your student take the best possible care of themselves and get support when they need it.