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Help Teens Dealing With Loss During COVID-19

Published in Behavioral Health Services, Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Susan Heidal-Schiltz,PsyD, LP

While adults may be focused on worries about the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, financial stressors, job changes and the threat of illness, many of our children and adolescents are currently struggling with the accumulating losses of important activities, social connections and milestones. Here are some tips to help them through these difficult times:

  • Acknowledge the disappointments. Things like prom, graduation, state tournaments, banquets, concerts and plays are important milestones for students. Many of these activities have been planned, prepared for and/or dreamed about for a long time. When they are suddenly taken away, it is okay to feel sad, angry, cheated or disappointed. This may be especially intense for senior students who may not get the chance to celebrate those final high school moments.
  • Express and validate feelings. It can be helpful to share these feelings with others rather than holding them inside. Parents and teachers can encourage expression of these feelings and validate them as normal and expected reactions to loss. It is important not to minimize these feelings by saying things like, “it could be a lot worse” or “there will be other fun activities next year.” Allow your child or teen to grieve the losses with you by their side.
  • Find the good facts. Along with validating and giving space for the losses, it is also important to keep sight of the good things. What are you grateful for right now? How have others helped you through this? What accomplishments are you most proud of? Try to identify at least five good facts each day and share these with others. Research shows that this can be a huge mood lifter.
  • Reflect on your successes. Even without a graduation, state tournament or final concert, realize that nothing can take away from the qualities, talents and skills that you have worked so hard to cultivate. Take time to reflect on your efforts and celebrate your accomplishments. The teamwork, dedication, leadership and hard work that you have put in will carry with you into your future endeavors. No virus can take that away.
  • Stay connected. Loss is easier to bear when we don’t have to go it alone. Lean on your parents, friends, coaches, teachers and others to help you get through this. Know that some days will be harder than others, but that time has a way of lessening the pain of loss. There are brighter days ahead.
  • Get creative. Are there ways that you can still connect with classmates, teammates or others for a virtual celebration? A service project? A Zoom prom? Perhaps now is the time to put together that photo book with all your favorite high school memories. There are many examples out there of extraordinary creativity in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Put your thinking cap on!