Coronavirus may mean missed senior days, proms, and graduations. How can we help our kids cope?

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t had some kind of cancellation due to the Coronavirus. As the parent of a high school senior, though, I am keenly aware of the poignance of the milestones she is likely to lose. There is a beautiful dress hanging in her closet for a prom that may not happen. A cap and gown may go unused in an unheld graduation. And even the things she and her friends may have grumbled about — AP tests and final papers — seem like vestiges of a safer time. As we pass by the dates when these events should have happened, the losses will hit her hard. As her mom, it makes me incredibly sad for her. It makes me sad for all of our children.

There are many other milestones that are being missed for others, too: college graduations, semesters abroad that were cut short, and goodbyes unsaid. All of these last things won’t be honored in the same way as in our pre-Coronavirus life. These losses are a big deal. As their trusted adults and role models, we have to figure out ways to help our children through these tough times.

Why are milestones important?

Milestone events like graduations are important for providing symbolic and real recognition that we have accomplished something. They are a way of honoring that we are different now and in a way that is recognized as worthy of community support. Just getting a fancy certificate in the mail doesn’t cut it. We want to encircle with love and congratulations, signaling our pride as they transition to something bigger.

Giving our kids permission to mourn.

Right now, while many school systems have canceled school through the end of the year, many have stopped short of saying there will be no graduation. There are likely many reasons for this reluctance. It is a hard call and will disappoint so many kids. We don’t need more bad news right now. And we are optimistic people and don’t want to make a premature call in case something amazing happens.

But when the bad news comes, we will need to help our children mourn. Holding them as they cry, understanding when they are angry and disappointed, and affirming how hard this is are all important ways to convey our empathy. As parents, we also need to be vigilant about our children’s mental health during this time. Disappointment, sadness, fear, and social isolation could all manifest into clinical anxiety or depression for some kids. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression just in case.

Consider getting your child the help of a mental health professional even if the issues haven’t reached the level of a diagnosis. Counselors can help clients with grief, which is a normal reaction that feels terrible. Many therapists are also offering telemental health so your child does not have to go to a physical location in order to participate in counseling. Your child may also be very concerned about your level of stress, which can trickle down through the household. Please reach out if you would like your own counseling support during this time.

It’s time to get creative.

We need to begin thinking outside the social distancing box. Can we rally as neighborhoods and communities and have a senior day when we all put out luminaries or Christmas lights to celebrate all of our graduates? How do we set up a synchronous graduation ceremony online? Would our children’s teachers be willing to sign graduation cards to send our kids good wishes? Let’s put our heads together and create new ways to honor these important events. They won’t be the same but at least we can show how very much we care.

Lighting the way for our kids.

Sending good wishes and light to you all during this tough time.