How to Help Your Kid Deal with the Loss of Graduation
The class of 2020 is experiencing the loss of momentous moments like graduation and prom. Here's how they can cope.
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Grieve and Connect with Peers
One unique element of the current situation is that we are all in it together. We are all going through some sort of loss or disappointment, and therefore students can share their grief with their friends and classmates. Jacobson encourages students to reach out and stay connected with teachers, coaches and mentors during this time. “While many of us are feeling Zoomed out,” she says, “these technologies are allowing us to connect while apart.”
It’s also important for parents to remind their kids that they too are experiencing loss. After all, seeing their kids graduate was going to be a momentous occasion for them as well. They should explain that they also feel powerless, says Dr. Smerling. “And they should tell their kids that we’re just going to have to live without answers—which sometimes is the best thing to do because it helps us be present.”
Plan a Virtual Graduation Celebration
While not everyone will be ready to replace the real thing with a virtual alternative, it might help to brainstorm some meaningful ways to celebrate. According to Dr. Smerling, now is a good time to come up with a creative new ritual. “This is an opportunity to reinvent or create something that you never dreamed possible,” she says. This could be a gift or a plan for a future trip. The message is: “You’re just postponing it. You’re not taking it away.”
Maybe your kid is interested in a virtual prom (they can get dressed up and have a special dinner; or create a virtual dance party with an online DJ.) According to Jacobson, “this may not be the prom that was planned, but it’s definitely one to remember always, talk about at that 20th reunion, and tell children one day.” They could do the same with a graduation ceremony—with cap and gown and family involved. Or maybe they’d prefer to mark the occasion at home with their family.
Whatever you and your child decide to plan should be played out with passion: send out invitations or announcements; go shopping online. Hanson did a “promprosal” for his girlfriend in which he rode his bike to her house and asked her to the prom via sign from an appropriate distance away.
And make sure to let your kids take the lead, says Dr. Mel. “This is not the time to push your own agenda.”
Create Some Kind of Closure
One of the biggest issues for seniors not getting to experience the end of their high school or college careers is that there is no real closure—and many are yearning for that. For some, this may take the form of a virtual celebration but Dr. Smerling suggests another idea: make a video. “It’s something you’ll be able to remember and show your kids and grandkids—how this was what happened, and it was a very unusual period of life for all of us. “
Some college students are choosing to stay an extra year in their college town so that that can take the time to plan for the following year, and to spend more time with their friends. Dr. Smerling suggests high school students do something similar by planning a meeting in June—with or without the school’s help—when they can share their plans for their future with each other. “That would be a remarkably healthy possibility,” she says, “but of course only if that’s in everyone’s best interest health-wise.”
Finally it may be helpful to keep in mind that the real thing is often not as great as the fantasy. For example, that graduation brunch with grandma and cousin Jim is often fraught with tensions—and maybe missing it isn’t all that bad after all.