How to Cope with Canceled or Postponed Milestones
There is nothing normal about the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time filled with uncertainty, fear, struggle and loss. Regardless of whether or not the virus has directly affected your family, each and every one of us has been affected — in vastly different ways.
For students everywhere, regardless of age, grade or geography, their educational experience has come to a halt.
In-person classes were canceled, college students returned to their hometowns, internships were canceled, and remote instruction and distance learning have been difficult adjustments for even the most flexible of mindsets.
On top of these challenges, another change for high school and college seniors is the cancellation or postponement of traditional events, including Senior Weeks, proms and their highly anticipated graduation ceremonies.
Students need the time and space to mourn these well-earned milestones and should be given ample opportunities to talk about their feelings with family, friends, or trusted teachers and counselors.
To help, we spoke with Diane DiSalvo, LCSW, Director of Counseling Services at Integration Charter Schools and Adrian Oxman, clinical psychologist at Arrow Psychology, for their expert insight into managing these sudden changes.
Feel All Your Feelings
“Many students may understandably be feeling disappointment and frustration about the cancelation of graduation and other senior events. They are not alone. Parents are disappointed, too. It’s sad for many students, parents and grandparents who were looking forward to celebrating this achievement,” explains DiSalvo.
These feelings of disappointment and loss may also lead to feelings of anxiety and fear. Some students may want to talk about their feelings, and others may not. There is no right or wrong answer, but being supportive is key.
The most important thing is to encourage the students to feel each and every feeling, and know that it’s okay to be feeling them.
DiSalvo suggests, “Parents can also share their own disappointment and listen to their child’s expression of sadness and anger. Sharing their own feelings and validating their child’s feelings will help to ease the blow of these losses.”
Oxman echoes a similar sentiment in saying, “Any and all emotions need to be normalized in these abnormal times. Anger, sadness and anxiety about the future should be expected and accepted.”
She stresses being sure to give yourself and/or your student time to acknowledge how you feel and space to grieve these losses — because they are real losses. Then, both DiSalvo and Oxman suggest looking to other ways you can honor the achievements, with innovative ways to celebrate.
Make It Special
The loss of the traditional celebration doesn’t mean a celebration should be completely voided. There are ample ways to still reflect on all of the accomplishments while still being safe.
“Although it’s difficult through the pandemic, parents can do little celebrations at home and share the news of graduation with relatives and friends. Stay in touch with friends and work with teachers on ways your school can make these celebrations special,” says DiSalvo.
At her schools, for example, she shares that online events are being planned to help ease the disappointment of the loss of live events and to still instill a sense of community through celebrating these special moments. They are also mailing graduation caps and gowns to each high school senior for at-home celebrations.
Look to the Future
Though it may be difficult because of all of the unknowns, staying positive and looking toward the future is important.
“Staying positive can be so tough right now, but it’s a good idea to focus on the little things that bring you joy,” says Oxman. She also suggests scheduling and planning for events and activities you will look forward to, even if it’s something as simple as having an ice cream sandwich for dessert.
Be sure to maintain a healthy and productive routine, as it can help to stabilize the days and establish some sense of control. Oxman suggests “going back to the basics” and making sure you include time for exercise, virtual socializing, proper diet and sleep.
Holding fast to the notion that you will have the opportunity to celebrate and to also put your education and achievements to good use in college and in your future employment can help you to stay focused on your goals and maintain a positive mindset.
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