AC’s Social Worker and Student Counselor, Kate Dunlavey, recently spoke with parents of graduating seniors to provide support techniques to help students navigate the wide range of emotions they may be feeling during these uncertain times. Throughout the session, Kate focused on the importance of students finding closure nearing the end of the their high school careers and preparing for the next chapters of their lives. She also discussed coping strategies for to process the grief students may feel in response to the potential cancellation of senior milestone events.
Below is some of her parting advice to parents.
A – Plan for right now
When we don’t have answers we begin to fill in the blanks for ourselves. We get stuck in future and past thinking which increases feelings of anxiety and depression. We need to get off the hamster wheel and the way to do that is to get focused on the present.
What can I do right now, in this moment?
What do I have control of right now?
- Use techniques such as mindfulness (defined as anything that gets you focused on the present like taking a walk/reading/yoga/meditation).
- Use the Pay it Forward Challenge to reconnect with a sense of purpose, self control and agency. What can you do to infuse positive messages of hope and support into the world? Examples from Kate’s family, my kids chalk jokes and happy messages to neighbors at the end of our driveway, we put rainbows in the windows to represent hope and good things after the storm, etc.
- Use visual imagery exercises like the Container Exercise (script below) for a safe place to store worries and feelings until we need to or are ready to do something with them.
Container Exercise script:
We are going to create a container that is big enough and strong enough to hold all of your worries and all of your feelings about what is going on right now.
How big is your container? (the size of a box, a room, a house, a building, a mountain, etc.)What is your container made of? (metal, wood, plastic, etc.) Can people see inside?
How does it open and close? Does it lock? Can anyone go in and out or just you? If it locks/unlocks with a key where do you keep the key so it is safe? *this can be magic too!
If a hurricane comes, does your container survive? If there is damage, what changes are needed to fix the damage and make the container stronger?
Once the container feels complete, visualize opening the container in your mind.
Name what color your worried feelings are inside you.
Name what color calm and peaceful energy is, and picture it all around you.
Take three deep breaths. On inhale, picture the calm energy going in and pushing the worried feelings out on exhale. Worried feelings go into your container safely.
[Check in after three breaths to see if there are more worried feelings to get out or if what is left is stuck.]
Visualize closing and locking the container.
Your feelings are safe.
B – Plan for the short term (next few weeks/months)
IF senior events are canceled we can expect a disruption in closure milestones and a disruption in launching milestones.
- Saying good-bye to AC community/friends/etc.
- Processing the end of a chapter with one another
- Graduation parties
- The “what are you doing next year” conversation
- Sharing future plans
This is a loss, and we will all likely experience grief around this.
The Kubler-Ross 5 Stages of Grief (image below) can help us understand the emotional wave we will experience from denial to anger, to bargaining, to depression and finally acceptance (I don’t like it, I can’t do anything to change it, I am going to make my peace with it) and then back through them all again.
Parents and children will all experience this grief. It is critical for parents to model self-care. Children do what we DO not what we say. If you are managing your grief and taking care of yourself, it gives them permission to do the same. Let them see you grieve this and process it together. The best way to help our children through this process is to bear witness (definition below), to let them know we see them and hear them. To validate their feelings. Sometimes, when we try to make it better for our children, we accidentally invalidate their feelings. They don’t need us to make it better, they need us to see and hear them. Reflect feelings back to them (“This is really hard. I don’t blame you for being super upset about this.”).
Definition of Bearing Witness from “Psychology Today”:
“Bearing witness is a term that refers to sharing our experiences with others, most notably in the communication to others of our experiences. Bearing witness is a valuable way to process an experience, to obtain empathy and support, to lighten our emotional load via sharing it with the witness, and to obtain catharsis. It is widely confirmed in the literature that validation in the course of and bearing witness is vital and necessary in remembering and in the healing process.”
A reminder to all that, when we face loss, grief is a NORMAL process. This is a great time to help children create connections and develop networks with peers or other adults to process thoughts and feelings. We can also invite our children to have hard conversations with us (“You are older and more mature now, and if you want to sit down and talk about anything, I will give it to you straight.”). We have an opportunity to teach our children how to manage challenging information, decision making, and longer term planning. This included financial conversations if necessary (around college options).
C – Plan for the long term
We will adjust to this new way of living. We will keep, and honor, what we need to, and we will mourn and let go of what we need to/have to. Rituals help us process, heal, and integrate life experiences. In the midst of this, it is important to create new rituals. We can help our children find closure and meet launching milestones by finding new ways to meet those needs and new rituals to honor them. An example of a new ritual that has already emerged is birthday drive-by’s. These are a meaningful way of celebrating and honoring someone in a new and thoughtful way. We can get creative and work together to find new ways to celebrate and honor our seniors. Most importantly, we must stay connected.
Posted in: Twelfth Grade, Upper School
The timing couldn’t be worse. Juniors visit college campuses during the spring in anticipation of compiling their college application lists. April is the most popular month for seniors to tour campuses where they have been admitted, eventually choosing their home for the next four years. COVID-19 has turned everything on its head, creating unprecedented challenges for families and colleges alike. How can families take advantage of online opportunities to learn about college campuses?
Here are 6 tips on making the most of virtual college visits:
1. Check out the Office of Admission website.
Colleges are just as bummed to be missing your in-person visit as you are. This is typically when colleges roll out the red carpet for prospective students, hoping to “yield” seniors with panel-packed open houses. Be sure to check the Office of Admission website first to review their online offerings, including tours, information sessions, and webinars. It’s also a good idea to connect with the admission counselor responsible for applications from your region.
2. View videos on the university’s official YouTube station.
From research and campus speakers, to updates on what’s happening on campus, the university’s official YouTube station can present a treasure trove of content. It can be a great way to see how the campus engages its local community as well.
3. Supplement official videos with student-produced content.
Even though you should check out the Office of Admission website and official YouTube station, realize these could present an overly-marketed view of the college. Look for videos and content produced by students and student organizations.
4. Connect with faculty.
If you have some ideas about what you’d like to major in, reach out to faculty in those departments who are doing research related to your interests. They will be excited to hear from you, as it is also in their best interests to showcase their work for prospective students. When you’re eventually allowed to visit campus, these faculty can be a great resource for you.
5. Leverage your high school’s alumni network.
Since you’re unable to connect with students during an in-person campus visit, now is a good time to search social media to see who from your high school is currently enrolled at the colleges on your list. These acquaintances can provide first-hand insight into the pros and cons of the college/university as well as give you ideas about the transition from high school to their particular college.
6. Stay informed.
As you research campuses from the comfort of your home, frequently check colleges’ websites for updated information about campus visits. Colleges are eager to have you visit in-person and will let you know when it is safe to do so. Plus, all of the homework you’re doing in advance will make you a savvier campus visitor!
Interested in chatting with a former Associate Dean of Admission and Director of Selection about the college admissions landscape?
Please consider Emily Nevinger a resource as you compile your college lists or decide where to enroll. Emily can set up virtual appointments to discuss what is important about your college search and offer strategic, personalized advice about your best fit. Contact Emily for details.
Emily NevingerEmily is Associate Director of Admissions and College Advising Consultant at Allendale Columbia School. After serving as the Interim College Advisor in Fall 2018, Emily took on a role to offer students and families outside AC with guidance in the college admissions process. Her role has since expanded to the Admissions team, where she helps prospective families learn more about AC's innovative education. Emily joined AC from Emory University where she directed the selection process for more than 20,000 freshmen candidates each year. She started working at the university level in 2003 and was a senior member of the admission committees for University of Miami, Emory University, and UNC Chapel Hill. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University, a Master of Higher Education Administration and Enrollment Management from the University of Miami, and a Certificate in College Access Counseling from Rice University.
Posted in: AC College Consulting, College Advising News, Eleventh Grade, Events & Workshops, Highlights, Ninth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School