Teen Coping Skills: Dealing With Disappointment When Coronavirus Cancels Everything

7 tips for grieving a long list of losses
Teen in bedroom sad because of quarantine

Prom: canceled. Sports seasons: canceled. Driver’s ed, birthday parties, graduation — all canceled. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues, teens are feeling distraught about everything they’re missing. 

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While some of those events might seem frivolous from your middle-aged vantage point, they’re important milestones for teens making the tough transition to adulthood. When their regularly scheduled lives are put on hold, it’s natural for teens to mourn.  

“They’re going through a grieving process. There will be times that they feel angry or sad, and that’s OK,” says pediatric psychologist Kathryn Jones, PhD. “With time, they’ll come to a place of acceptance. We can’t force them to get there before they’re ready, but we can help them find ways to cope.”

Dr. Jones offers these seven strategies to help your teen deal with the disappointments brought on by coronavirus.

1. Remind them they’re doing something significant

Kids can struggle to grasp the threat of COVID-19. They might think sheltering at home is an annoying overreaction. 

“Help them understand that by staying home, they’re playing an important part in flattening the curve. They’re decreasing the risk of contracting the virus or spreading it to others,” she says. “Emphasize that they’re making a difference by staying home.”  

2. Acknowledge that it’s hard

It might be tempting to point out that missing one dance or track season isn’t the end of the world. But for teens, those aren’t just fun events. They’re important milestones that they may have been looking forward to for months or years. 

“Acknowledge that what they’re going through is hard,” Dr. Jones says.  “Let them know it’s OK to feel disappointment and to grieve.” 

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3. Ask questions

Parents often go straight into problem-solving mode. Unfortunately, coronavirus and quarantines aren’t problems you can fix. And teens aren’t necessarily looking for answers — they’re looking for a safe place to share their feelings. 

“Give them space to express themselves. You can even ask them if this is a venting conversation or a problem-solving conversation,” Dr. Jones says. If they just want to vent, all you have to do is listen with a sympathetic ear.  

4. Find creative ways to connect

Most teens are tech-savvy, so connecting with their friends via text and video chat probably comes naturally. You can feel OK about letting them use their devices for staying in touch with family and friends (with appropriate parental controls and privacy settings in place, naturally). 

You can also look for ways to connect with the activities they’re missing. Mourning softball season? Ask your daughter to play catch with you in the yard. Missing dance class? Let your son choreograph a silly dance routine and teach it to his siblings. “Get creative, and find ways to engage the whole family,” Dr. Jones says. 

5. Look for silver linings

School, sports, jobs, friends, homework — modern teens are often overscheduled. For many, that’s changed. 

“So many teens are so busy they don’t have time to do everything they want to do,” Dr. Jones says. “This could be a time to explore interests they’ve never had time for before, whether it’s learning to cook, training the dog or reading everything they can find about astronomy.” 

6. Encourage daily exercise

Regular physical activity is important for a healthy body, but it’s also a great stress-reliever and a natural mood booster. Now more than ever, encourage your teen to get up and move

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7. Practice coping skills

This is a great time to reflect on coping skills that have been helpful in the past and to try new strategies to manage stress. “Ask your teens what helped them feel better during hard times in the past, and help them think about what they can do to manage stress and sadness now,” says Dr. Jones. 

Do they find peace from journaling? Making art? Listening to music? “Help them identify their coping activities, then make sure they have what they need to do those things.” 

Signs of depression and anxiety in teens

While it’s normal to be sad and stressed right now, Dr. Jones says to be on the lookout for symptoms of depression or anxiety, such as:

  • Anger or irritability.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Feeling tired or low energy.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Significant changes to sleep or appetite.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.
  • Loss of enjoyment of things they used to enjoy.
  • Thinking or talking about death, suicide or self-harm.
  • Unexplained pains, headaches or stomach problems.
  • Lack of motivation to do things they’re usually interested in.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering things or making decisions.

If you’re worried about your teen’s mental health, try to remain calm and start with a gentle conversation, Dr. Jones says. “Talk to them, give them a safe place to express their feelings, and if you have concerns, reach out to your pediatrician.” 

Fortunately, mental health care is becoming even more accessible as many psychologists and other providers have started offering more virtual visits and teletherapy during social distancing. And it’s not just something to consider for your teen. We’re all struggling, and one of the best ways to help your teen is to make sure you’re in a good mental space, too. 

There’s a whole lot to deal with now, and it’s OK to ask for help for anxiety and depression, Dr. Jones adds. “Mental health professionals have the tools to help you figure these things out.” 

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