When the school year disappears – children dealing with loss
The world has changed utterly – or at least that is how it feels. Our children are experiencing the same sense of upheaval. For children who were due to move on from nursery, primary or secondary school this year the sense of loss may be even greater. Normally there would have been some process to help our children move on and make the transition. This may have been ‘graduation’ from nursery, special trips, the Leavers’ Mass, prom. Our children may be experiencing a sense of ‘ambiguous loss’. This is where we feel we have no control over the loss and we can’t resolve it easily. Certainly at the moment there is an ongoing sense of “I don’t know” in response to questions about when life will feel any way normal again, when schools will re-open, how that will be done. So in the midst of all this ambiguity or unknowing, how can we help our children to deal with their feelings of loss? Here are some ideas from Geoffrey Greif. You can read the whole article on the Psychology Today website at https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/blog/buddy-system/202005/the-ambiguous-loss-the-end-the-school-year
1. Discuss the ambiguity. In Pauline Boss’s writing, she emphasizes that coping with ambiguous loss often requires us to recognize that it is not possible to be in control of the situation or to resolve the sense of uncertainty. Instead, we can learn new ways to live with both the virtual presence of people (e.g., teachers, friends, extended family) and their physical absence. We can agree that we are missing milestones while, at the same time, accepting new opportunities.
For children, sitting with this ambiguity and uncertainty is often a challenge (as it is for many adults). But families can talk about it with their children and acknowledge a range of emotions that may ensue, including a sense of loss, even as we build relationships and traditions in new ways. More celebrations will come our way.
2. Explore opportunities for gratitude. Researchers have repeatedly found that expressing gratitude is associated with improved mental health, well-being, and stronger relationships. Parents can model for children opportunities to identify things they are grateful for, even in the context of unpredictable change and loss. A small moment, like connecting with a school friend on FaceTime, can be something for which to be thankful. Showing gratitude towards others can build on this.
4. Approach yourself and your children with love. There is no blueprint for how to manage this time. A nonjudgmental lens of love and support may be the best way to enhance your connections and build feelings of value and worth.
As painful and as ambiguous as these losses are, we are going through them together. And with this shared experience, we can look to ourselves and to others for ways to build communities inside and outside of our homes.
3. Engage your child in decision making. While there are many issues that children and teens don’t have control over right now, there are also things that they can control — such as the order in which they do their schoolwork, which friends they talk to in the evening, and how they want to spend free time. Work with your child to identify decisions that they can make, so in moments when they feel vulnerable, they can focus on what they can do.