Talking to Your Kids Who Are Missing Out on Big Moments

With all that’s going on to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many important events have needed to be adjusted, postponed, or even cancelled. Some of these events may be things that we and our kids, have been looking forward to for quite some time.

I’ve seen countless stories on social media about kids and parents alike who are sad or frustrated about events getting cancelled – like prom, commencement, family reunions, state level sports competitions, weddings, the big spring theater production, holiday gatherings, and other “rites of passage”. These big feelings associated with missing out are completely understandable and valid!

Part of the reason we have these big feelings about this is that many of these events would meet the research definition of a ritual. According to a literature review by Fiese and colleagues, rituals are defined across three important characteristics. They are…

  • Symbolic – rituals are a representation of “who we are”. (In other words, the event’s meaning may be more about what it represents than what we actually do during it).
  • Enduring and affective – rituals create an emotional and impactful memory that we can look back on.
  • Meaningful across generations – Rituals give us something to look forward to that those before us and after us will also participate in.

When we look at the event cancellations that have left us with shoulders dropped and tears in our eyes, we may find that it’s because they are tied to an important ritual or rite of passage. Our kids may have been looking forward to a ritual like walking across that stage at graduation – it represents an accomplishment and transitional phase in their life; it is a significant event that has an emotional impact; and it is something that parents, siblings, friends, and additional generations take part in.

It’s completely understandable that parents and kids alike are having big feelings about these unexpected changes. As adults, we recognize that while it may be disappointing to miss these events, that we will be okay in the long run. Hopefully we are using healthy coping strategies to adjust to these changes. However, our kids don’t necessarily have the same skills that we do, so it’s important to help them navigate these cancellations and adjustments.

Here’s four steps for helping your child navigate tough feelings of disappointment or frustration about cancellation of these rituals:

  1. Find out what “rituals” or big moments specifically your child is reflecting on. There may be different events that are more important to them than you might realize. Maybe they care more about missing out on senior activity day than about prom. (Hint: that’s okay!)
  2. Ask how they are feeling about it, and then accept and acknowledge those feelings. Some kids might feel anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, or even relief about events getting cancelled. Whatever it is they are feeling – that’s okay. Listen to your child, and try to avoid dismissive statements like “there are way worse things in the world”, “suck it up”, or “it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things”. While some of these statements may have some truth to them, it is not very helpful or supportive. Instead, try to focus on statements like “it’s okay to feel _______”, “I know this is something you were looking forward to”, or “this is really hard”.
  3. Provide some extra attention, talk about concerns, and provide the factual reason why the big moment was cancelled or postponed. Gently remind your child of the factual reasons why the event was postponed. Also remind them that it’s not their fault, or your fault, or the school’s fault. Try to give them the extra time to express their concern or frustration.
  4. Think creatively about how we can still create some of those feelings associated with this big moment or ritual. Think about how you can use your knowledge of the definition of rituals to still create a special memory, even if it looks different than originally planned. Maybe you can reenact the moment, do something virtually, commit to celebrating at a later date, or even asking your child what they’d like to do instead.

To gain a broader understanding on rituals and the impact of missing out, please listen or watch The Science of Parenting’s mini episode, “Missing Out on Big Moments.”

Watch the video:

Or Listen (also available on most podcast apps, including Apple and Spotify!):

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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