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Janet Hicks Ph.D.

Grieving Missing Graduations and Proms

How do I help my child who cannot attend prom or graduation?

First, do not discount the loss. Have empathy for the fact that they are missing out on some important milestones. Saying things such as, “Others have it worse, “or “You are being selfish when others are dying,” is not helpful and may make the wounds fester. This is important because they need validation and have a right to grieve.

Next, point out that this class will be recognized and applauded for their willingness to stay home to improve the health of our country and citizens. Just as many throughout history are known for contributing to the greater good, this class can reframe their grief into pride for doing what is right. They should be very proud to have the opportunity to demonstrate behaviors that will contribute to keeping others safe and healthy. For this, they will be admired and appreciated by all.

In my view, we should all be reframing this grief into an opportunity to find new ways to celebrate milestones. Students can use this time to become creative and offer new ways to mark cultural events. For example, families can create scrapbooks for graduating youth that capture feelings and memories for each occasion. These scrapbooks could include photographs, written thoughts, or tokens that capture the feelings and experiences of the celebration, as well as the inherent grief. Other creative celebrations might include online celebrations or graduation parades occurring safely in cars. Who knows? Maybe some of these novel ideas will be lasting events used in the future. This class will be able to say they started a new trend.

Alfred Adler stated that helping others through what he called "social interest" was a way to help both others and ourselves. Your child can use Adler’s social interest as a way to channel losses into something memorable and productive. For example, your child could help younger children with their homework right now or talk to the elderly quarantined in nursing homes over the phone or the Internet. Perhaps they could add some of these experiences to their scrapbook and make social interest an annual event that memorializes their graduation. Mentorships created with both the young and old could be a lasting memory that brings pride rather than grief in the years to come.

Your child has a right to feel grief for missing out as well as pride for finding a new way to celebrate. Personally, I will have the utmost respect for the class of 2020 forever and greatly appreciate their willingness to put the safety and health of others above their own celebrations. For this reason, they will be known as the class with real class.


Adler, A. (1964). Social interest: A challenge to mankind. In J. Linton & R. Vaughn, Trans. New York: NY: Capricorn Book. (Original work published 1933)


About the Author

Janet Hicks, Ph.D., is a professor of counselor education at Belmont University and a licensed professional counselor who specializes in child and adolescent development.