When I had three little kids at home, I thought life was hard; I was tired and stressed and somehow always a little sticky. I used to think, “Will they ever stop crying about every.little.thing?”
I quickly learned how to lower a fever, bandage a scrape, and diagnose various cold and flu viruses, but I called the doctor a lot in the early years and asked my mom and grandmothers a lot of questions about earaches and rashes. I learned that they do stop crying over every little thing and they rarely wake me up in the middle of the night anymore! Hallelujah!
But as the physical demands of motherhood have lessened, the emotional demands have increased. I’ve realized that the first-aid skills I’ve acquired though the pre-school and elementary years aren’t enough to see my kids through to adulthood. Now, the wounds are harder to treat because they’re internal injuries. In tweens and teens, a broken heart can hurt just as much (or more) than a scraped knee—and the skills required are much more specialized.
Even if you’re still a toddler-mom, or are knee deep in the teen years, I’ve compiled a first-aid manual for you to reference as you learn to help mend and heal the painful heart-wounds your tween and teen will eventually face.
First-aid for broken hearts:
- Get to know the Healer. Psalm 147:3 says “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Stand on this truth! Soak up God’s word and walk with Him in prayer every day. It’s easy to get parenting advice today—but we must seek it from the right source. There are therapies and medications that can help our kids, but we must continually point them to the One who heals completely. When we know the Healer, we can worry less, trusting by faith that He will see them through the heartbreak. It’s important that we live our faith OUT LOUD in front of our kids. To model faith in the Healer, we need to talk about it even when we would normally keep it private. Our kids might not understand what’s going on in our heart and we need to tell them things like, “I’m trusting God to help me understand Grandma’s death.” or “God is an amazing healer and I trust Him.”
- Listen without interruption or judgement. We have to be available listeners if we want open communication with our kids. Sometimes, what they have to say is painful and frightening for a parent, or it might make us mad, but I would rather them communicate it to me than have them deal with it on their own, or worse, confide in a peer for advice. I have a terrible habit of interrupting my kids when they’re telling me something important. I’m chomping at the bit to interject my advice rather than allowing them to talk. My daughter will even remind me before she tells me something. “Mom, please don’t say anything until I’m done.” That’s a judgement that breaks my heart! I should know this better than anyone because I often need to talk about a problem before I can see a solution. I need to offer this to my children when they’re hurting or afraid. The mistakes of our kids, or their friends against them, can make us squirm, especially when it’s something we never encountered, but if we aren’t the safe place for our kids, there isn’t one. They learn to trust God with their problems by first being able to trust us to listen without judgement. Affirm/confirm their feelings. Sometimes, kids can’t find the right words to describe what they’re feeling. We can help by saying, “That hurts!” or “They were careless with your heart.” We’ve taught them not to say “mean” things, but we can call it like it is. We can say, “That was selfish.” Or “They gossiped about you and that was wrong.” We can create a safe place to discuss the truth without hurting others.
- Respect their emotions. Acknowledge their pain is real. Whether it’s rational or not, what they’re feeling is REAL. I have to remind myself that I was fourteen once. I have an old journal that I kept in my teen years and it makes me cringe to read it! How silly I was, yet how real those emotions were to me at the time. Emotion isn’t wrong and provides a great teaching platform for learning how to react and deal with emotions. Aren’t we our kids’ first glimpse of God? He is such a compassionate father who hears all our emotions with respect and care.
- Sometimes, you just need a hug! It’s natural to hug and cuddle our kids when they come to us with a scraped knee and it’s my opinion that they need that same touch throughout the teen years. We may not be able to pull them onto our laps anymore, but a hug communicates more than we could ever say when their heart is hurting. My son is fifteen and in his early teen years I began to hug and touch him less because it got a little awkward, but I’ve learned that my touch is still important to him. I used to smother him with kisses, but now a good hug or a shoulder squeeze communicates that our relationship is reliable and strong. Touch is now normal for us. He even held my hand for a while during this year’s Mother’s Day sermon at church. (sigh) You know your child and what they need, so adjust to their comfort level, but remember that touch is important for growth and intimacy. If you don’t touch and hug your teens, they might not be touched by another human for days or weeks. I’m not a super needy person when it comes to hugs, but I cannot imagine living without touch from the people I love, especially when I’m hurting.
- Ask questions to clarify without judgement. Our kids can hear judgement from a mile away. Phrase your questions after they’ve talked in way that is totally non-judgmental, as if you’re a policeman gathering the facts. (Mama, as I’m writing this, I see how ill-equipped I am to be one giving advice. Thank God for His grace in my parenting!) Understanding their situation and position fully helps us help them. How many times have I heard half the facts and started throwing advice around like a toddler with a semi-automatic weapon? Someone is bound to get hurt in that situation! It’s hard, but helps keep the all-important communication open.
- Pull out the first-aid manual: Mama, the only hope for your children is found within the pages of your Bible—ultimately we’re teaching them that help for a broken heart is found within the pages of THEIR Bible. Now that you’ve listened, teach them that the answer for every kind of heartache is found in the Bible. Can you get good advice on the internet? Yes. Can you learn skills from therapists and their books? Absolutely! But the hope we all desperately need comes from the word of God. This can be a challenge for many of us because we often don’t know the right verses ourselves. You can’t go wrong with the Psalms and Proverbs, or stories about Jesus, but there is NO SHAME in using the amazing tools we’ve been given. If you can’t think of a specific verse, do a quick internet search like this: Bible verses that deal with a broken heart. Or what does the Bible say about divorce, or homosexuality, or loneliness. Or Bible verses about grief, pain, loss, or forgiveness. You can also search for encouraging verses about perseverance, joy, and hope. Once you’ve looked up the reference on the internet (and used your own judgement to choose a few), open your Bible and read them together.
- Unveil the tricks of Satan. If your child’s heartache involves sin, teach them about the enemy and his deceptions. John 8:44 says “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Many of our early mistakes and pains are simple deceptions of Satan. Teach them practical ways to identify the tricks of Satan so they won’t fall prey again—and so they can more easily forgive others who wrong them. You can share appropriate experiences, but be careful about sharing too much because some research shows that kids have a tendency to make less of their parents’ mistakes and feel a sort of license to engage in similar behavior. (If it turned out OK for them, it will for me, too.) Satan deserves a share of the blame in sin and we cannot expect them to understand how he works if we don’t lay it out plainly.
- I’m tearing up as I write this. (sniffle) I love praying out a heartache with my children to God. I usually ask them if they want to pray, but they almost always ask me to do it. We cry together about hurt they’ve suffered at the hands of others, we grieve, we repent. I ask God to comfort them and give me wisdom in my parenting. I ask that God keeps them from sin and protects them from Satan. There is no better healing for a broken heart than prayer and your words to the Heavenly Father on their behalf can be as powerful as the best antibiotic or chemotherapy!
- Discipline (if needed) without anger. Anger hurts a broken heart. You wouldn’t pour salt onto a cut on your toddler’s lip, even if they’d gotten that cut as a result of disobedience, would you? Discipline with character in mind rather than just a change in immediate behavior. We need to be concerned about their heart condition rather than behavior modification. Hebrews 12 talks a lot about discipline and helps me understand it more fully.
- Love without reservation. Never withhold love in the face of a mistake. God never withholds His love, no matter what we’ve done. Teens need to know that you’re going to love them through it all. Romans 8:37-39 gives us a clear picture of God’s love: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
There is no one better equipped to help your teen through heartache than YOU. You don’t need a self-help book, just a reliance on God and His word. If you’re like me, you’ll make mistakes, but they’ll love you in spite of them because you’ve been there for the small things like bruises and scraped lips. They trust you and you can trust the Healer when it comes to first-aid for a broken heart.
By Kelli Hughett
Kelli Hughett is a minister’s wife, homeschooling mother of three, speaker, and fiction author. She lives and works in Windsor, Colorado. Be sure to look for her latest fiction release, Red Zone. To book a speaking engagement contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. (subject line: Book Speaking Engagement).