The day will come – my, how the years flew by – when your child is lovelorn for the first time. Perhaps their first sweetheart has broken off the romance or has even developed a crush on someone else. Is there anything you can do?
“Parents shouldn’t trivialise a child’s unhappiness because of unrequited love – they should take it seriously,” advises Kira Liebmann, who coaches parents on “puberty survival”.
Remarks like “Other mothers have pretty daughters too”, “You’ll have forgotten about this by the time you’re married” or “Come on – it only lasted two weeks!” are things your own parents likely said to you in similar circumstances, Liebmann notes, adding: “But they didn’t help then nor will they now.”
It’s not wise to dismiss the child’s feelings, she says. “If you tell them that their feelings aren’t genuine, you’re not taking the child seriously.” And this, she says, only adds to their distress: Besides being lovelorn, they’re made to feel that their emotions are false.
Undue sympathy is also counterproductive. When parents commiserate strongly with the child, they intensify the child’s feelings of unhappiness. Remarks like “Oh, you poor thing!” or “I feel so sorry for you!” rub salt into the wound, rather than help close it.
Parents should leave the lamenting to the child and remain strong themselves, she says, “because children need them then with all their parental energy – as advisers, listeners and voices of experience.”
She recommends taking a large container of ice cream and two spoons to the child’s bedside, and relating long-ago stories of your own lost loves. Simply being there and listening when the child wants to talk is a help.
The general message should be: I’ve gone through this too. If you like, I’ll tell you how I picked myself up and moved on. Then wait to see if the child wants to hear your stories or not.
Parents shouldn’t impose themselves, Liebmann says, but offer their help or take the child’s mind off the sorrow, talk about other things and be close by if needed. “But they shouldn’t be offended if the child declines all their offers.” – dpa