Is your child struggling with a broken heart? Broken hearts in childhood happen for all kinds of reasons, and children’s reactions vary based on their season of growth and development. Sometimes, a broken heart is due to something obvious like grieving the loss of a loved one. Other times, it could be due to having a change or transition in family life (i.e. separation or divorce), moving, losing a friendship, being mistreated by a peer, disappointing parents or oneself, having dashed hopes, or wanting something and not getting it. Any way that it happens, it is never easy for a parent to watch a child’s heart break.
So, what can you do when your child seems sad, worn out, tired, angry, easily frustrated, irritable, or tearful? How can you help mend what is broken?
Hear are some helpful tips:
- Actively listen. Then listen, listen, and listen more. This doesn’t mean asking your child a question while you are walking around doing ten other things, nor does it mean that you have to sit him down at the table and stare at him to prompt conversation. It does mean finding a situation which best suits active listening for both of you (and that situation may change over time). Active listening means that your full attention is devoted to listening without distraction. For a teen, it may be taking a drive, or taking him out for ice cream. It might mean spending time before bed hanging out in his room and talking before lights are out. For a younger one, it may be helpful to let him pick an activity, like throwing a ball outside, taking a walk, or grabbing a favorite snack together. Whatever it takes to create the right space for your child to talk, and for you to really listen, find it.
- Try one on one time. If you are facing challenges having your child talk or open up, try some different ways to open the doors to communication. Try one parent at a time. Often, just having mom or dad to talk to, rather than both, can help. It can feel less intimidating one on one.
- Ask open ended questions. Open ended questions like “How was school today?” or “How are your friends doing?” allow your child more flexibility to answer genuinely. They also let him know that you aren’t assuming or presuming to know what is on his heart. They leave open the “possibility” of more depth in conversation.
- Offer your own personal stories, and share what has happened to you, enough to let your child know that you also have been through heartaches. However, don’t make blanket statements that insinuate that you know exactly what he is going through. Think about when you were an adolescent or teen. Did you feel misunderstood? Most do. Did you feel like you were unique and no one had ever been through what you had? It is a normal part of growing up. No kid wants to hear an adult say, “I know exactly what you are feeling” or “That is exactly what happened to me”. However, sharing your stories can open the doorway to your child sharing stories with you. Be open enough so your child realizes you have had struggles, but don’t monopolize the conversation or lay claims to totally getting his feelings…even if you do totally get it!
- Comfort is the key. Home is supposed to be a place of respite and comfort. Even in the midst of traditional business, normal family arguments, and difficult times, home is still that place where most of us like to return to. There is familiarity with our own environment, our family, and our traditions. I can still remember a Mickey Mouse plate with pretzels on it that my mother brought me in the middle of the night to my bedside when I was seven years old and sick. Think of what is comforting for your child. Perhaps it is an item or object, an activity that is relaxing (i.e. going to the movies, watching a show, or playing a game), or a comfort food or routine. Think of what your child loves to have or loves to do that produces relaxation. You will find your comfort measures go the distance to mend his heart, and will be remembered when he is old and looks back at how you responded.
- Redirect attention. We all have things that take our minds off of stress. Your child likely has activities that are total and complete distractions. Engage your child in something fun, schedule a day trip, pick a new hobby to do together, or schedule a meetup for your child with a trustworthy friend. Make it happen. Redirection is a powerful tool to combat stress, and it is good for a child to be mindful of what helps him to decompress and be happier.
- Be patient. It may take time for your child to talk with you. Sometimes, the storm has to clear. Be a source of safety and comfort. Other times, feelings will come rushing out and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of his emotions. That can be gratifying but sometimes it can be overwhelming and exhausting. If your child is emotional and is taking frustration out on you, stay calm and be supportive. It doesn’t mean you are a punching bag or a doormat; it means you can set loving and firm boundaries while reassuring him that you are there to listen and help.
- Pray with your child daily. Praying with your child daily does many things. Prayer is your petition and your child’s petition before God. It is your communication with the one who made you and knows every one of your thoughts and feelings before they exist. It can be hard for a child to see God in the midst of hard times, and it is normal to even question His existence and His presence. He might ask “Why would God allow this to happen to me?” It can be very healing for him when you pray alongside him. Let God know how you feel and how he feels. Ask Him to provide comfort, help, and peace. Thank Him for what He is doing in your lives and who He is making you both to be. Doing so with your child present is important because it exemplifies that we can always go to God about anything and everything, in the best and worst of times, and we can trust His plan even when we don’t understand or are angry, hurt, and confused. It also shows that God welcomes us to talk with Him, even when we are brokenhearted and that He provides comfort in the midst of it.
- Keep an eye on the time. Your child may recover quickly or may take time. A broken heart can take a while to heal. If your child is struggling for an extended period of time, withdrawing or isolating, or if his self-esteem, enjoyment of life, performance in school, or relationships are affected, it is a good idea to seek professional help through your child’s doctor or a counselor.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3