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Helping Kids Cope with Missed Milestones

Experts offer advice to help kids cope with the loss of end-of-school year activities and traditions.

Kids are missing out on end-of-school-year milestones and activities due to COVID-19. Check out these ways to help them cope with the disappointment, sadness, and grief that comes with it.

My daughter made the varsity soccer team at her high school this spring, but she hasn’t been able to play one game. Meanwhile, my neighbor has twins who are seniors in high school, and they’re just hoping the school offers some modified options for a graduation ceremony.

Around the world, families are dealing with a marathon of disappointment with no finish line in sight. There are no easy answers to coping with the grief, but these mental health professionals offer some suggestions.

Listen, and validate your kids’ emotions. The first step following grief should be to “spend some time sitting with them [kids] and really try to understand what they are experiencing,” says Aimee Sullivan, a child, adolescent, and young adult psychologist at the Johnson Depression Center at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. This is important, she says, because “a lot of parents might jump to relieve the distress…and might jump to a solution that doesn’t fit the problem.” Remember that what your child is feeling might be different from what you are feeling.

Communicate even at a distance. “Diving into negative thinking, especially in isolation, is a recipe for mental health challenges,” says Ovidio Bermudez, senior medical director of child and adolescent services at Insight Behavioral Health Centers. Continue to have conversations with friends and family with whom you can express yourself and communicate your feelings, by phone, Zoom, or other methods, he suggests, and encourage your kids to do the same with their friends. Discuss best case scenarios; talk about all the selfless sacrifices people have made; take in other people’s points of view.

Encourage daily creative expression. Tap into your kids’ feelings by encouraging daily art creation, journaling, listening to music, or other forms of creative expression. “Build off their interests,” Sullivan says. “[Think about] things you can do to be creative with your time and use that time in meaningful ways to process disappointment.”

Gather for family meals. Sullivan says research shows that making time for family meals helps kids develop resilience during hardship: “It doesn’t have to be elaborate or last long to become part of your family rhythm.”

Write down what you are grateful for. Every day, Sullivan suggests setting aside time to write down just one thing you are grateful for. You can write it on a self-stick note, type it on a cell phone, or record your family’s answers on a calendar or memo board. “Don’t join in the catastrophic thinking,” says Bermudez. “Staying hopeful is so helpful.”

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