The abrupt school closures during the coronavirus pandemic have left many students feeling like they’re getting a raw deal. Many are missing out on major rites of passage, like the prom or even a graduation ceremony. Others are missing their regular school-related activities, like sports, band, or their favorite after-school club. Many college students are missing out on life with their friends.
These are some unprecedented times. Never before have so many schools across the globe closed indefinitely. And without a clear date for return, many young people are floundering.
Whether you’ve got a grade-schooler or a college student, there are some things you can do to support a student who is missing out on school-related activities this year.
Validate Your Child’s Feelings
You may think missing the school dance or a graduation ceremony is pretty minor. After all, there’s a chance you might be missing a job or the income that goes along with it.
But this isn’t a good time to remind your child that your hardship is worse than theirs. And don’t remind them of the hardships you went through when you were their age either. Telling them you would have welcomed staying home from school because you had to “walk uphill in the snow both ways” isn’t going to help.
Instead, validate your child’s feelings. Try to pinpoint the emotion you think your child is feeling. Say something like, “I see you’re really sad that you don’t get to eat lunch with your friends anymore,” or “I know this must be really boring having to stay home all the time.”
Even if you think your child’s reaction is a bit out of proportion to the situation, avoid minimizing their feelings. Saying something like, “Well it’s not that big of a deal,” will only make things worse.
Young people want to be heard. And simply acknowledging that you know they’re experiencing some emotional pain can help—even if you don’t completely understand why it’s so painful.
Talk About the Big Picture
This isn’t going to last forever. But your child might feel stressed and overwhelmed right now. So saying, “This is just one of the many problems you’ll face in life,” might come across as insensitive.
Instead, you can help your child see that although the weeks might be dragging on right now, this time period is short in the grand scheme of life. But it’ll also be unforgettable.
Talk about how someday their own children will be reading about this pandemic in history. Or discuss how their grandkids might have questions about what it was like when all the schools had to close.
Asking questions like, “How will you explain what happened or how you spent your time to your kids someday?” might help older kids and teens put things in a different perspective.
Emphasize the Importance of Social Distancing
When your child insists that it’s not fair they can’t see their friends or that it’s unjust their birthday party has to be postponed, validate their frustration. But emphasize that this is the right thing to do right now.
Explain how taking time away from regular events is good for everyone. And while it might be sad and lonely to miss out on things, it’s still necessary for their own health as well as the health of the overall community.
Point out that you’re proud of them for staying home. Acknowledge that as a family, you’re doing your part to stop the spread of the virus. And make it clear that everyone’s hard work will help bring this to an end sooner.
Look for Alternatives
A virtual meeting with friends certainly isn’t a substitute for a graduation party. And dinner via video chat isn’t a good replacement for a prom date.
But these alternatives may be better than nothing, especially for the events and activities that are canceled (not just postponed).
Invite your child to offer ideas about how they can still honor certain milestones even while they’re social distancing.
Remind them that their friends are in the same situation. And they can choose to make the best of it if they want.
If you have younger children, you might enlist the help of other parents to create a virtual birthday party or an online get together.
Encourage Healthy Grief
It’s OK for kids to feel sad about what they’re missing out on this year. They may grieve the fact that they didn’t get to play spring sports or that they weren’t able to go on that special field trip they were looking forward to.
Their friendships may shift dramatically too when they aren’t able to see one another in person. They might find that they grow apart from their social groups.
They may miss their teachers, their gym class, the bus ride with friends, their lunch group, or their classes. And they might not get back to those things. If they miss the rest of this school year, they may advance to the next grade and never again enjoy some of those things in the same way.
So let your kids feel sad. You don’t have to constantly point out the “bright side” or try to cheer them up. Feeling sad now can help them heal their emotional wounds.
It’s important to teach them how to cope with their sad feelings in a healthy way, however. You might encourage them to write, draw, color, listen to music, read books, or talk to someone when they’re upset. But help them find strategies that reduce the intensity of their emotions without turning to unhealthy things like eating too much food.
A Word From Verywell
It’s tough to see your kids disappointed because they’re missing out on so many things right now. But it’s also a good opportunity to teach them valuable life lessons. While they can’t control the situation, they can control how they respond to it.
If your child is really struggling during this time, consider getting professional help. Many therapists are offering online therapy for children and teens. Talking to a mental health professional may help them find healthy ways to cope with their distress, and it may help them feel better.