Graduations, proms, musicals, concerts, senior recitals, birthday parties… the list goes on. There has already been a long list of postponed or cancelled events, and it will likely grow longer. There are even things that might seem minor, but have still been suddenly changed without the chance for proper closure. My daughter is grieving that she won’t get to say goodbye to a student teacher she adored, and if she’s unable to return to school before summer, there will be an even greater loss of missing her Kindergarten teacher.
As we adjust to home-schooling and social distancing, we will inevitably be faced with the loss of opportunities to perform, to showcase various skills, to complete things we’ve been working hard towards individually or as a group, and to celebrate. While achievement-based identity can lead to unhealthy patterns of anxiety and insecure self-worth, it’s also valuable to have opportunities to develop a sense of competence, connection to a greater task, and courage in demonstrating skills to others. I encourage you to help your kids notice and communicate their emotions related to these losses. Validate and accept their sadness, disappointment, and frustration towards the situation and the decisions that they may disagree with and struggle to understand. Below are some practical ways to help with the coping process and celebrate the journey it took to get to this point.
- Take time to track the journey, highs and lows, and the hard work along the way that is not erased by not having a finished product. Celebrate milestones that occurred, areas of growth, and any internal experiences of confidence, joy, courage, and accomplishment.
- Help your child use social media to put on a celebration, to show what they learned, perform a piece of music, or showcase their art.
- Reach out to those you know who will be missing one of these events, or invite others to help your child celebrate. Send flowers on what would have been opening night. Have a dance party at home, bring a corsage, get all dressed up, and have their friends do the same and join one another via Facetime or Zoom. Create an art gallery in the basement, post pictures online, and record comments from friends and family that they can look back on.
- Break down their emotional experience to highlight not just the negative feelings currently experienced, but also the positive things felt along the way. Help them to see how their experience can push them towards the next season, opportunity, or semester, and how areas of growth will be valuable in other areas of life.
- Encourage creative ways to maintain social connections, especially ways to celebrate milestones with peers. Create a red carpet with balloons on your sidewalk and take pictures of your kids and their friends as they walk separately, or do the same while playing Pomp and Circumstance for graduates. You can even ask neighbors to stand in their yard and cheer during the “ceremony.” Through all the rituals, help them recognize the emotional connection they’ve created with peers that goes beyond physical presence.