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Published on April 21, 2020

mother and daughter sitting on couch talking

How Do I Help Kids Who Miss Special Events?

College and high school seniors who were counting their final weeks before graduation are now fully immersed in a new experience: grief for the senior year they had expected.

Teens and younger kids who were looking forward to proms, spring formals, birthday parties and other milestone celebrations are also experiencing the loss of memories that had planned to create.

Some may minimize their loss compared to the threat of a global pandemic. But it’s still a loss, all the same and it’s important to recognize the grief that accompanies such a loss.

“It’s hard for them, and it’s hard for parents because many parents are grieving along with them,” said Mark VandeBraak, Thanatologist at Avera Behavioral Health Services. “The losses are real and deserve to be seen as real, even in a time where so much feels unreal.”

VandeBraak offers these thoughts on how to help:

Validate the Loss

Grieving the loss of the “normal” we all previously experienced and the expectations we had during this time is commonplace among teens and younger children who had big spring plans. “Some adults are also experiencing their own stressors, such as loss of their job or loss of financial stability,” VandeBraak said. “Consequently, adults may compare the losses and feel that the ones their kids face is not valid, but actually, both are losses – both are real and our teens and children need to know we understand the loss and their feelings they are experiencing at this time.”

Listen and Don’t Try to “Fix” It

One of the most important things you can do is to listen by allowing them to vent frustrations, concerns and worries. By listening to them you are communicating that you care. “As parents when we listen, we naturally want to try to fix it,” VandeBraak said, “As parents we want to solve our children’s problems because we want them to feel better.” We cannot fix this pain because we can’t fix or change the situation. It may be helpful to find other opportunities to honor the occasion or make plans to recreate celebrations, either virtually or in the future, but it is important we keep our children in the center of these conversations and try to problem-solve together.

Manage Your Own Reaction While Teaching

During these times of uncertainty and during these times of losses, it is important as parents that we manage our own reactions. It is important we model for them that it is OK to share your feelings that it is OK to ask for help if I am not handling these changes well. It is important that we remember that we are teaching our children how to cope during times of distress.

We can’t fix the losses but remember our students and children are not asking us to fix them. “They want us to be there for them, they want to know we understand their feelings that we are listening and they need to know they are not alone. They need to know we will get through this together,” he said.

If you or anyone in your family wants to speak to a behavioral health professional about grief and loss you can call VandeBraak at 605-322-4074.

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