With schools closing and many seniors in the international school community evacuating, students and parents are looking for ways to support their graduating high school seniors during this global pandemic. The thought of your child finishing their senior year of high school at home is daunting and can create a stressful environment for everyone in your household.
Graduating seniors are dealing with making major life decisions, deep social pressures, and a global pandemic. Despite the challenges, there is a silver lining – opportunities for your student to build resilience and healthy practices as they prepare for their next adventure. Here are some ideas about how you can support yourself and your high school senior during this difficult time.
Finishing high school and embarking on a new stage of life is stressful enough on its own without the backdrop of a global health crisis. Learning how to keep calm during a crisis prepares them for the challenges ahead when they are on their own. Your senior will often model your behavior, so be sure not to speak in hyperbole or use a negative tone that heightens their anxiety. Practice using constructive language to express your emotions and reassure your student that they are not alone. Encourage them to take things one day at a time no matter what life throws at them.
Maintain a Routine
It is easy to wear pajamas all day and fall into an unproductive mindset without the structure of school and office. Maintain a healthy routine that includes going to sleep and getting up at the same time after a full night of sleep, practicing good hygiene, getting dressed, taking breaks, and eating healthfully. Just as you would not want your child heading to class in pajamas, or skipping class all together, emulate the behavior you would like them to follow.
Listen and Validate Emotions
Listen to your senior’s concerns and validate their feelings. Concerns about final grades or sadness about missing their last school dance are valid emotions that students may be experiencing. At the initial stage of shock, do not try to reframe or correct their emotions when they just need your support and acknowledgement. As one of our daughters calmly explained, “Mom, please do not try to fix anything right now. I just want you to listen to how I am feeling and process what is happening.” Be there to support your child as they progress through the stages of change, stress, and mourning. If you find your child is experiencing symptoms of depression or undue anxiety, it is important to help them differentiate between disappointment and depression and identify ways they can seek mental health support.
Share the Power of Gratitude
If your child is not accustomed to expressing gratitude or writing thank you cards, this is a good time to hone this valuable skill. Help them identify mentors, educators, and others in their lives who have helped them get to where they are. Not only will this activity help with conveying gratitude, it is a powerful habit for their college years and beyond. Break out the thank you cards and encourage your student to put pen to paper. Consider buying them several boxes of thank you cards as a graduation gift (they might even thank you with one of them). Help them use their creativity to think of other ways to communicate gratefulness.
Help Them Find Closure
Many seniors will not get to see their friends or attend farewell events at their high school. Encourage your senior to find creative ways to say goodbye to friends and educators that have played a role in their journey. Consider having your own family graduation ceremony that you can share virtually with family and friends over a live video or as a recording after the event. A symbolic gesture allowing them to celebrate the event and mark this important milestone will help bring closure and prepare them for the next step.
Keep Them Informed
It is wonderful to be hopeful that things will change and get better but the adage, “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” is helpful when supporting your child. The current situation may have impacted your family’s ability to pay for college or support your student in the way you previously planned. This is the time to be honest with your child by sharing information and constructive news and developing a family plan to help them feel in control.
With social distancing bringing the bustle of a senior’s daily life to a screeching halt, this is a good time to talk about the independence of life after high school and encourage reflection on how idle time in college will be spent. Encouraging your child to explore a new hobby or interest will help them develop the skills to build resilience for both challenging and isolating moments in college or beyond.
Remember the practical, too. In the Foreign Service world it can be easy for a student who has enjoyed household help to miss learning important life skills such as washing laundry or changing a flat tire. Speak with your child about the skills they would like to learn or improve upon before they prepare for life after high school, and help them learn those skills.
Schedule Quality Family Time
With your high school senior leaving the nest in a few short months, now is the time to make more positive family memories. Spending time together on a family activity creates a calm and safe space. One of our daughters recently asked to view old home videos and photos from her childhood. Take time to watch a Netflix series of their choice with them, engage their help cooking the family dinner, or plant a garden together. Be creative with your choice of activity!
With so much going on in their lives and so many options in their future, be sure to let them know that you believe in them as they set out to fly on their own.
About the Authors: Alexandra Blackstone is a training technician at the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center and a family member of the Foreign Service community for twenty-five years. Alongside her Foreign Service Officer spouse, she has served at eight overseas assignments. She is the proud parent of two children – one of whom is a graduating senior – who have spent the majority of their lives overseas, navigating the challenges and rewards of the Foreign Service lifestyle.
Hannah Marie Morris, Ph.D. is a training instructor at the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center and a Foreign Service family member. Prior to her role with the U.S. Department of State, she researched adult learning outcomes in an intercultural setting as a university administrator and professor. She earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Florida and often researches and publishes about “Third Culture Kids.”