The governor of Illinois officially announced that all Illinois schools are to remain closed to in-school learning for the remainder of this school year, confirming what many believed would happen due to the Covid-19 pandemic. His announcement took away any hope for end of year celebrations for many students, including class trips, award ceremonies, graduations, and prom. These events are significant rites of passage for our children, and as parents we need to be aware of the impact that the governor’s order has on the mental health of our children who are missing these end-of-the-year events.
Children’s lives revolve around school, so school events are looked at as the highlight of the year. So how do we help our children, our students when these events are cancelled? To offer help, we must first recognize the reason for these celebrations.
In our culture, we use large public celebrations to mark significant times in our lives. Public events provide witness to legitimize accomplishments and serve as a transition point for a new phase of life. Of particular importance are 8th grade and senior year of high school, when the transition is of heightened significance. Our children need a way to say good-bye to familiar schools and routines, and even to childhood friends who may become more distant as life goes on. Adolescents are developmentally bonding to their peers at this same time, in preparation for eventually leaving home and forming a new life as an independent adult. Having a ceremony which allows tears of both joy and sorrow helps the abstract become reality. Facing a new life without having a way to say good-bye to the old slows down this transition process, for the change is abrupt and the challenge can seem insurmountable for our preteens and teens who have little life experience for comparison.
The first important step we can take to help our children is to ask them how they feel, listening without judgment to their unfiltered response. Allowing our children to verbalize their emotions helps them process their feelings. If children are not given this opportunity, negative emotions can become internalized and lead to depression. Responses from parents and other caring adults, such as “I know you are angry”, “I understand your disappointment”, and “Life doesn’t seem fair right now” are helpful phrases to validate feelings. Minimizing feelings with well-intentioned statements such as “You won’t even care about missing prom a year from now” or “You’ll have other graduations in your life” can do more harm than good, for your child will hear in these statements that their feelings are wrong or don’t matter.
The next way you can help your child is to engage them in problem solving, to find an alternative way to help celebrate and legitimize their accomplishments. Engaging your student in the planning helps make the event real for them by more fully engaging all their senses and cognitive processes. Think outside the box and remember that the purpose is to celebrate publicly. How about contacting a few of their friends and their families to do a driving graduation procession past the school, followed by a virtual ceremony online during which each student can share a memory? You can use social media to form a class group, a virtual yearbook. In your home you can enact a family graduation ceremony, complete with a homemade diploma and even cap & gown for the more adventurous. You can also plan a future party, to be held once the stay-at-home order is lifted. As adults, we need to both validate feelings and to offer hope and alternatives to help our children move forward with confidence.
If you see signs that your student may need a little extra help, some professional support, please reach out to their doctor or to a mental health provider. Now more than ever, telehealth services offer that connection that can supplement parents in helping their child cope and succeed. Stay positive and be present as a parent, asking for help when you recognize warning signs in your child, such as anger, isolation, and lack of interest. Your actions can be the difference between this school year being forgotten or being one of the most memorable moments in your child’s life.
For more information: Mobile Therapy Centers (MTC) is a private therapy company offering individual services to children and families, including counseling & behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and ABA therapy for children on the autism spectrum, as well as educational workshops and webinars. For more information, please contact MTC at email@example.com or # 847-816-7200.
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This article was written by Carol Morrone, Manager of Educational Services & Development for Mobile Therapy Centers