Helping Young People Cope With Missed Milestones

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May 11, 2020


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With schools canceled across the country, students of all ages are missing out on major events that typically take place in May. End-of-year trips, parties and award ceremonies are momentous occasions that students look forward to throughout the school year. Prom and graduation are important rites of passage. Missing these exciting moments and the public recognition that come with them can be devastating for many young people, especially high school and college seniors.

Although foregoing these experiences may not seem like such a big deal to adults, there is more to consider, says Graciela Jimenez, a psychotherapist with Baptist Health South Florida. These events are developmental milestones that typically provide young people with important opportunities to connect with their peers at critical transitions into adulthood. Parents should take these missed opportunities seriously and try to help their children process their grief during this time of uncertainty, Ms. Jimenez advises.  

Acknowledge Feelings of Sadness

The first step, she says, is to acknowledge your children’s feelings and reassure them that it is normal to feel sad about this situation. Young people want to be heard, so listening to them and validating their frustration and disappointment can help. 

Focus on the Positive

Ms. Jimenez also recommends talking to your children about the things they can control. Since many schools are holding virtual graduations, making plans to maximize this experience is a positive step. Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Albert Carvalho announced that virtual graduation ceremonies will be broadcast online and through local media partners. During each ceremony, a photo of each graduating senior will be displayed while the student’s name is announced. Parents and guests will also have the opportunity to remotely attend virtual graduation ceremonies.

“Parents should partner with their graduate and family members to make the most of this virtual occasion,” said Ms. Jimenez. “They can get dressed up, decorate their home and prepare a favorite meal. Extended family, friends and neighbors can also honor the graduate’s accomplishment by doing a drive-by celebration.”  

Encourage Social Connections

During this time of social distancing, social connectedness can reduce children’s feelings of isolation and stress. “Encourage your teens to stay connected with friends through group chats, phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom, social media and shared online activities such as watching a series or movie together,” Ms. Jimenez advised.      

Offer Praise for Doing the Right Thing  

Praise your children for staying home and practicing social distancing. Point out that the sacrifices they are making will reduce the spread of the virus, protect the health of the overall community and bring this pandemic to an end sooner. “Young people are quite resilient, and this situation can further build their flexibility and ability to cope with future challenges,” Ms. Jimenez said.   

Look to the Future

Reminding young people that things will get better gives them hope. To give graduates something to look forward to, encourage them to start planning post-pandemic activities, such as a much-deserved graduation party or outing with friends, suggests Ms. Jimenez. “They will get through this, and it will make them – and all of us – stronger,” she added.  

Consider Seeing a Mental Health Expert

If your child is really struggling during this time, consider contacting a healthcare professional. Talking to a mental health expert may help young people find healthy ways to cope with their distress. To schedule a private visit with a licensed mental health specialist, download the free Baptist Health Care On Demand app or visit BaptistHealth.net/CareOnDemand. Use code WELLBEING to get $10 off your consultation, valid through December 31, 2020.

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