Inevitably, relationships end, even for teens or young adults with developmental disabilities. We need to help them cope with this part of life as well. Often, parents are so relieved that they don’t think to help their child cope with the flood of emotions that occur.
What should a parent do? There are two steps that need to be taken. Your first step is to “normalize” the situation. That means to help your child understand that everyone who has a relationship has a breakup at some point in life. I have my patients talk about what siblings or friends have gone through. This validates their experience. Then, you want to help your child identify his/her feelings. There are a jumble of emotions that need a word to label them. You child may feel angry, hurt, betrayed, humiliated and maybe even demeaned. Often there is a sense of not being good enough or not being worthwhile. It is important to get some verbal labels on these feelings. Then you can reassure your child that these feelings, though valid, will get better, but not necessarily quickly. That is true for everyone.
The second step is to talk about the ways to handle the situation. What are the kinds of behaviors that one follows after breaking up. Here are a few suggestions:
- Your son/daughter should try to avoid contact the ex.
- The rule is that when they see each other, “Hello” is fine, but then nothing else.
- Help your son/daughter contain his/her anger. Accusations and outbursts don’t help anything. Blame is not helpful either.
- You can help by modulating your own emotions. Being negative about the ex is not going to help your son/daughter feel better. I think it is far more helpful to respond that this is part of life and that even though you were glad that he/she had a relationship, this is a frequent outcome. And, you are confident that he/she can get through it.
- Then, after you have dealt with the emotions, teach your child the art of distraction. Make a list of the things he/she likes to do and then suggest that using these can help minimize the emotions. For example, you might want to watch your favorite video or use one of your video games to distract you from these feelings.
Even though these are difficult experiences to go through, they can help your son/daughter learn valuable life lessons.