Break ups

Child’s First Break-up: A Guide for Parents

First break ups are the worst. No matter who you are, how old you are,

or where you come from, if you ever loved someone and it didn’t work

out, it hurts. You risked your heart. You thought it was something

real and unbreakable. You felt on top of the world. You felt beautiful

and amazing and then for any number of reasons, it’s just over. Or,

what is sometimes worse, you keep trying over and over again and it

just isn’t working. The pain can be unbearable.


Many people start dating in high school and may have experienced break

ups already then but college is a different time. You are older. You

know more about yourself and the world around you and as a result, you

typically love more which means you can hurt more.


Sometimes, as older adults we may forget how tragic the first

break-ups are but as a counselor, I’ve seen a break up really mess

with a college student’s entire semester, leading to increased

depression or unexpected social anxiety. Students can become more

apathetic about their classes or start engaging in reckless behaviors

as a way to make their pain go away (such as increased drinking or

drug use).


As parents, you may be wondering what you can do to support your

college student. It appears there are a couple of scenarios here. Your

child may be the type who has been keeping you up-to-date the entire

time, eagerly leaning on you as a sounding board and for promises that

everything will be okay and they will find love again.

Or, your child has been very aloof, avoidant even, and you are still

noticing some red-flag type behavior such as excessive sleeping, not

hanging out with friends, extreme irritability, any other behavior

that is just very unlike your child.  And as the parent, you are left

confused and in the dark.


Both cases, you are probably wanting answers as to how you can support

your child. What to say, what not to say…. Here is a list of some ways

to help support your kiddo through their first painful breakup.

  • If they want to talk, listen.
  • Validate their feelings and let them know it’s normal to feel devastated, lonely, like they will never find love again, etc.
  • Try not to lecture or talk about your experience unless they ask.
  • Try not to bash the person that left them because this may push them to feel defensive instead of feeling their own feelings.
  • Encourage them not to isolate and to spend time with friends.
  • Don’t force them to open up if they don’t want to. I get it, you want your kids to know they’re awesome but if they don’t want to talk, it’s best to honor that. Let them know you are here if they need it.


Some Fun “Get over the person” Exercises. If you have the type of kid

who you can talk to a bit more and they may be open to your ideas, you

can tell them you heard about ideas like this.

  • List all all the positive things about not being with that person (what are you now going to be able to do?, or what things will you not have to put up with such as hanging out with their weird friends? or getting to do something your partner never wanted to).
  • List of all that person’s flaws (this may help them see the bright side).
  • Write about everything you want in a future romantic relationship.
  • Make a list of all the people who have your back and love you. Read this every time you feel lonely.

These are just some specific things I’ve noticed are helpful during

this time. I’ll admit, this feels like a bit of a pessimistic blog to

be writing so close to Valentine’s Day but it’s a part of life plain

and simple. Often, people want to do anything they can to skip the

pain and just move on, but break ups are something that people just

have to move through. This is true for anyone isn’t it? We can’t have

love without the occasional heart-break.  I suppose the good news is

that any time we do experience heart break, it’s an opportunity to

learn to love ourselves even more and love ourselves even when things

are hard. Thanks for reading.

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Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J Cook is a Licensed Professional therapist in Asheville, NC. She has a private practice and is the co-founder of Bridge Box which was inspired by her work with college students. In different capacities, Carey has provided education and therapy to college students and families for over a decade. Carey seeks to understand and support college students during this phase of life and provide tangible tools to students via Bridge Box.

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