Care and Feeding

The Coronavirus Lockdown Has Ruined My Son’s Senior Year

Obviously, I agree with canceling all the usual fun spring gatherings, but how do I help him navigate his disappointment?

Sad boy sitting on the floor next to his backpack.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

The schools in our district and surrounding districts just enacted a two week “soft closure” because of COVID-19. I fully support this measure, as I am a teacher myself. The problem is my youngest child is a high school senior, and all the fun stuff has also been canceled. He finally made varsity in the sport he plays, and the big statewide tournament has been canceled. We don’t know if they will even be able to play again. The spring dance was canceled, and we won’t be going on our spring break vacation.

Now we are also worried about senior prom; graduation; Spring Day at his new, out-of-state college; senior trip (that he has already paid for himself); and college orientations that start in June. I am grateful that we are currently healthy and safe, but so sad about missing out on what should be a wonderful time in my son’s life. He is disappointed and frustrated to be missing out on experiences that just won’t happen again. How do I support him through his stress and disappointment while managing my own?

—Mom of a Disappointed Senior

Dear MoaDS,

I’m so sorry for both of you. Everyone is in the same boat. This is not going to comfort him, but college seniors are missing out even more than high school seniors. I would make outlandish promises about making a massive splashy deal about his eventual college graduation, and in the meantime, just seek to validate what he’s feeling. He knows he’s lucky not to be sick. Just let him be sad and support him in his disappointment and be very honest that yes, senior prom, graduation, Spring Day, and senior trip are not happening.

Expectation management is key. Prepare him for everything getting canceled, and then if something does manage to get postponed until the fall and things are less grim, it’ll be a nice surprise. It sounds like he’s a good kid who succeeds at a lot of things, and those skills will follow him all his life. He just won’t get formally recognized for them this year. And this year will end. Focus on your pride in him, do what you can to show it every day, and support him in electronically commiserating with all the other seniors, who feel exactly the same way.

This just sucks. Sometimes things just suck. I did not go to prom, and I have zero memories of my high school graduation, and yet, look at me, a professional advice columnist. He’ll be OK. You’re a thoughtful mom.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 12-year-old autistic son. When he was younger, he would sometimes hit his face out of frustration. The frustration would usually be if he wasn’t doing well at a video game. When he would do this, we’d have him take a break from the game, and encourage him to relax. He thankfully never left any marks on himself, but obviously it’s not something we wanted him to do. Eventually he just stopped doing it. Now after several years, he’s started doing it again, seemingly with just one game in particular.

Since he’s older, I’ve tried to talk about it with him. He says he hits himself when the game isn’t going well. I’ve told him his frustration is valid but that hitting himself isn’t a healthy coping mechanism. I told him he could hit a pillow if he wanted but never himself. I told him that if he finds himself getting upset that he should pause the game and take a little break, or just turn it off and do something more enjoyable. He seemed to understand what I was saying and said he would stop. Since then, it’s happened a couple more times.

What should I do? Do I just keep him from playing that game? Do I sit with him when he plays so I can gently correct/redirect him if it happens again? I don’t want him to feel punished, but I don’t want this behavior to continue. He’s not normally prone to act out like this at other things.

—Stop Hitting Yourself

Dear SHY,

I’m so glad that we are, as a society, (slowly) coming around on letting autistic kids engage in stimming and other coping behaviors instead of the nonsensical “quiet hands!!” methodologies that adult autistic people look back on with such frustration. Ones that involve the potential for self-harm, however, are obviously different. You don’t want your son hitting himself in the head because of a video game. This is very reasonable!

Since you and your son are able to communicate with (relative) ease, I would sit down and say, “Hey, I want you to be able to play your favorite game, but if you don’t find an alternative frustration release (pillows, squishy balls, etc.), I’m going to have to take it away.” The ball is in his court. Ask him what parts of the game make him most frustrated, listen, and also see if you can’t up his physical activity a bit. Getting all balled up because of electronics is so common, and you want him to be able to pursue his interests, but I personally have found that if you get more exercise before engaging in a frustrating yet beloved pastime, you’re less likely to hit that meltdown mark. I say this as an autistic person, and as a parent of an autistic person.

Keep me posted: You shouldn’t have to babysit him whenever he plays, but you also don’t want to see self-harm drift back into his daily life once it gets a toehold via this game. I would also reach out to his therapist or doctor, especially if he is receiving autism services, and discuss what you’re seeing. If you have to take away this one game, he’ll be fine. There are a lot of games out there.

• If you missed Sunday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We live two minutes from the grandmother of our children, my wife’s mom. Her three sisters and her mom consistently go dark and do not speak for months or almost years at a time. In an effort for our children to be involved with our extended family, I’ve told my wife she needs to reach out and try to rectify the situation with her mom and sisters.

My family has suggested I not broach this subject, however I am to the point where I’m going to reach out if no one else will. PLEASE HELP!

—Extended Family Troubles

Dear EFT,

Not everything gets rectified. This is not your lane, your wife knows these people down to her literal bones, and the last thing your children need is to build important emotional connections to people who will peace out on them. Focus on your nuclear family, your friends, and don’t hassle your wife to “fix” something she has (likely sensibly) decided is unfixable.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My twins, Molly and Asher, are 14, in eighth grade. They attend a public option school for the arts, and we have no complaints, except for the fact that there is a high turnover ratio of students who leave for other schools. It is a 6–12 school, and many students leave after middle school in particular. Unfortunately, Asher is one of those students. He hates the school and wants to transfer to our neighborhood high school after the school year’s over. He has a few friends at the art school but has a lot more at our neighborhood school, and he wants to play sports and have a real high school experience. However, Molly loves her school, has lots of friends, is very involved in after-school activities, and has no plans of leaving.

This is a problem, though, because they are driven to school in the morning and picked up after school, and the schools are 20 minutes apart and start and end at the same time. In a couple of years, we are going to buy the twins a car to share and getting both of them to and from school on time will become even more impossible. They have an older brother (19 now), so we know that having kids in multiple schools is a logistical nightmare. We know each kid would be much happier at the school they want to go to, but we don’t think we can do two different schools. Can we just flip a coin and make them go to that school, or should we just suck it up and deal with it? Please help!

—A Tale of Two Schools

Dear AToTS,

I have good news and bad news! The good news is, your letter was sent on March 10 and now you probably have no schools at all. The bad news is, you have 14-year-old twins living in your goddamn house 24 hours a day. I’m going to answer this letter like we’re not in the third chapter of The Stand, because ideally you will still have to make this call eventually.

My personal sense is that you go with the non-arts option, and Molly will have to deal with it. A socially with it kid like Molly can make friends and find new activities at a new school, your son actively hates the school, and you absolutely should not be driving to two schools unless one of your children has medical or emotional needs that have to be supported in a separate environment. That’s too big an ask. My apologies to Molly. My hope is that they will be so excited to return to any school when this is over that this will be less of a blow. If Molly is involved in more serious arts-oriented pursuits (14 is old enough that conceivably she could be painting or acting at a level she wouldn’t be able to reproduce at your son’s preferred school) than just fun after-school activities, that might change my answer.

When all else fails, a very annoying (yet effective) parenting technique is to begin singing the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” until your children give up. If you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need.

— Nicole

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