Read on for strategies you can use to help your kids cope with COVID disappointment and lay the groundwork for thriving in the future.
Use this time to “reset” priorities. If your kids rely too much on being the spelling bee winner, the star athlete, or earning the highest GPA, intentionally use this time—when they are more likely to be close to home—to help them reset and refocus on the character strengths that make them more resilient and empowered to deal with disappointments. The good news is that ordinary interactions, like daily conversations and activities that unfold organically, can foster these strengths and have an extraordinary impact on a child’s ability to rebound.
One way to help your kids reset: Praise them for more than their grades and scores. We’re so quick to inquire, “What did you get?” and not so much for, “What caring deed did you do?” Further, remember that resilience is internally driven and never relies on trophies or accolades. So announce a “no rewards for every little thing” policy and then expect your kids to do their best—without those enticers.
Encourage them to talk about their (very valid) disappointments. Give your child permission to share their concerns with you. Their outlook on missing their 16th birthday party or canceling their senior spring break trip due to COVID might be far different from yours. But often just knowing that you are listening and want to understand is enough to let some of their disappointment dissipate. Plus, treating them empathetically as they struggle helps them develop their own empathy—a superpower Thrivers possess.
“Hear your child out and let them voice their sorrow or regret,” says Dr. Borba. “Let them know that you understand. While you can’t restore the loss or missed graduation or other milestone your child had been looking forward to—sometimes for years—you can let them know you are here as a source of support.”
Break down their disappointment so kids can focus on the (brighter) future. Kids can become overwhelmed when dealing with disappointment. When they get a bad grade, they may think, I ruined the whole project, when the reality may be that just one part of the project didn’t work. The same goes for COVID losses. After so much lost time, they are likely to think, This is never going to end. Or, I’ll never see my friends again.
Help your kids break down the disappointment and put it into perspective.Point out that while the past year has been hard and disappointing, the future is bright. Schools and businesses are starting to reopen. More people are getting vaccinated. Soon they can see their friends again. Yes, they have been through something hard, but reminding them that things really are getting better helps them develop optimism—another character strength of Thrivers.
Help them brainstorm solutions when their plans are ruined. Brainstorming is a great resilience-builder that also nourishes your child’s curiosity, another strength Thrivers possess. Thrivers have a sense of agency that makes them feel they are in the driver’s seat when challenges arrive, and this same inner sense of control is also a great stress reducer.
To help them practice brainstorming, involve your child in coming up with ways to celebrate the event in safe, healthy, and creative ways. For example:
- Postpone it. Set a specific new date for the event and mark it on the calendar.
- Downscale it. Instead of hosting a graduation party for 300 kids, plan a smaller version for 10 of your child’s closest friends.
- Recreate it. Change the end-of-year sleepover to a socially distanced campout under the stars.
- https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-americaHelp your child build connections to combat loneliness. Physical distancing has reduced the face-to-face support systems that are so necessary for mental health, and research shows that kids are now suffering due to isolation. Teens and young adults are far more likely to be lonely as well as suffer from anxiety and depression. Loneliness and depression can be a toxic combination, especially during physical distancing. In fact, a recent Harvard study revealed that 43 percent of young adults reported increases in loneliness since the outbreak of the pandemic. An alarming 61 percent of young people aged 18-25 are suffering miserable degrees of loneliness.
“Find creative ways to help your child connect with friends, such as setting up regular virtual playdates, book clubs, exercise or yoga groups, study partners, or exploring hobbies with a friend,” says Dr. Borba. “Encourage digital use as a way for your child to reach friends face-to-face. But be sure to set limits on screen time if the activity is not ‘with’ another person.”
Take action if you suspect your child is in serious crisis. If you see a disturbing new trend in your child’s behavior, find out what is causing the change by seeking help from a trained mental health professional, counselor, pediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist. And if your child discusses plans of self-harm or your instincts tell you that something is wrong, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.
The bottom line: Kids are growing up in an uncertain world, and we can’t shield them from losses and letdowns forever. Better they learn to cope with disappointments of all kinds now rather than later.