By Dr. Dean Beckloff | Contributor
COVID-19 has brought an abrupt halt to our lives, and for some of us, our own livelihoods have been threatened too. It has been tough not to speak to those who have contracted the disease and…those who have lost their struggle to it. There has been untold stress, challenges to us personally and challenges to our families. There are a number of voices out there too, giving us an overload of information, and some of it conflicting. For the most part, we just want to keep our loved ones safe and our kids growing well through this crisis.
Our young folks, our teens and college age students have suffered in some unique ways too. Proms have been taken away—an important and huge rite of passage for most of our high school students. Our high school seniors may not be having a graduation—or if they do, it will be uniquely different for sure. Traditional celebrations are not going to happen. Our high school students were confined to working at home —and although the schools have tried to respond as adequately as possible—achievement has been affected. Many had their sports achievements taken away. I spoke to a high school junior the other day who is accomplished in soccer. His participation is reduced to his club coach sending exercises for his team to do. What will that mean in terms of an athletic scholarship?
Our college students have been profoundly affected too: Sent home from their schools. Completing their classes online. The impact is wide in its scope, from the academic impact to the incredibly important social aspects of college life, all abruptly ended. And for those seniors who are graduating, the excitement, the joy of that achievement, the celebration, the pictures with friends and professors—gone. For many of our college age students, they did not even get to say goodbye. Shoot, you could not even hug your roommate goodbye.
Talk about fear of missing out, this is one fear that has been realized—fully. Missing out on school, their social world, important school events, their deep friendships, and more. Perhaps most importantly, they are missing out on their dreams fundamentally not realized. This then brings a host of emotions with it—anxiety, stress, anger and disappointment, hopes dashed, and loss. Guilt too, because when compared to the lives lost to this virus, they may feel they don’t have a right to feel these losses. But they do. With loss comes grief and the inevitable working through that loss. Perhaps these losses are not as earthshaking as the loss of work, loss of money to put food on the table, and the loss of a loved one. But these losses are real nevertheless and create a shock to the system. A shock we can all understand during these times, as we have all had an incredible shock to the system, inwardly. As parents, we see the toll on ourselves but more importantly, we see the struggle our kids are tasked with as well. How do we help them?
Life does bring with it some incredible challenges. As parents we must do the thing that is important and helpful to our kids. They need to see us lead the way. Lead the way in getting up and dusting ourselves off and in believing that there is a way forward. Getting up in hope and getting up in courage. Leading the way to a positive mindset as we ourselves step forward. And leading the way to have the courage to grieve, but then to also move forward past the inevitable losses that are experienced in life. The courage to grieve also means grieving ourselves for the losses our kids have sustained. Perhaps our own loss of a dream for our kids, interrupted tragically by this virulent and deadly virus, that has interrupted the course of our lives.
As we are leading the way, here are some further thoughts:
- Stay with the teen or young adult if they are grieving a loss. Acknowledge their loss and help them to be aware of the reality of their grief. Do not try to placate it with platitudes. They need to grieve the disappointment that has taken place. But then step by step, encourage them to move toward the final stage of grief—acceptance—when they are ready.
- As they move to acceptance, perhaps it will be important to normalize this daunting experience, explaining that life has losses, including the loss of a dream.
- Perhaps one way to step over our losses is to begin to be thankful in the present. To see the joys that life brings daily in many small ways. This may sound trivial, but the reality is, to live with thankfulness for all of the life we are living is profound. There are so many ways that life is indeed beautiful and being able to recognize that beauty is deeply important. This level of being together as families may not ever happen again in our lifetimes. Learning how to savor it now will bring a great memory in the future.
- Mr. Rogers said, when tragedy happens, look for the helpers. And we have seen the helpers in the tragedy of Covid-19. The obvious helpers are the medical workers who are in the fight to save lives. But there are many out there trying to help our teens and young adults to realize their accomplishments. I was watching the news the other day and I was deeply touched. A high school principal was going to each of his students’ houses and bringing a special sign he had made for them personally to put in their yards. Each of the students was particularly and deeply affected that he cared to come and celebrate them. Principals and other school officials are visiting their graduating students, to celebrate with them their accomplishment and to send them off with a gift. There are many helpers out there, but we must be open to finding the helpers and to being grateful for their help. When we recognize the helpers, it renews our spirits and encourages us to also join in to help.
Perhaps then, that is the lesson. Each of us can be helpers. Someone once said that when we believe that we can make a difference in the lives of others, that is the beginning of true self-esteem. And there are many ways to be helpers. In small but significant ways, our kids can join in. Our kids must grieve and it’s OK to be sad. But then we can lead the way in getting up, dusting ourselves off, being thankful for the good around us, and then going out to help someone.
“COVID-19 can’t cancel community. Or generosity. Or kindness.”
Editor’s Note: Dr. Dean Beckloff is a pediatric therapist, school counselor, and trainer, who specializes in treatment for children and families navigating divorce and other life challenges. He is the founder of the Beckloff Behavioral Center in Dallas. If you wish to contact Dr. Beckloff with questions, comments or for a consultation, he can be reached at the Beckloff Pediatric Behavioral Center: DrBeckloff.com / 972.250.1700
ABOUT DR. DEAN BECKLOFF:
Dr. Beckloff maintains an active counseling practice in Dallas, specializing in treatment for children’s issues and families going through divorce. Dr. Beckloff has extensive experience, including teaching, working as a school counselor, providing teacher training, and working at the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas. He is also active in his community, working with child-focused community groups; his desire is to see kids and families thrive despite the stressors of life.