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Talking to your college age kids at the holidays

Our hopes for a happy and warm holiday can still be achieved if we anticipate and prepare for our children’s needs to experience and express their grief, confusion and loss in light of the Tree of Life tragedy.

Here are a few tips for thinking ahead and planning for more than just the side dishes on our Thanksgiving tables.

  • Anticipate your adult children’s needs to be with their old friends over the holiday. Try to be as flexible as possible with schedules so that this need for grieving and processing with their peers can happen with as little parental guilt or pressure as possible.
  • Some young adults may express anger and dismay that the community has seemingly moved on in their experience of the tragedy. The memorial outside of the Tree of Life having moved inside, or the traffic moving by at a normal pace, might seem callous to individuals who have been waiting to grieve until they came home.
  • This may not be the year to try a new recipe. Wanting things to ‘stay the same’ in the wake of a tragedy may result in annoyance at even small changes. Your young adult is at the stage in life where they may expect life at home to stay the same – a safe base of normalcy and familiarity. The Tree of Life tragedy may have upended this feeling of safety for them, resulting in more dependence on routine and tradition.
  • Try to listen with as little advice or judgement as possible as your young adult processes their feelings. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief and loss. Accept what they say and reassure them that you are there for them through whatever they are experiencing.
  • We also can’t assume that your young adult will want to talk or grieve with you. They may appear disconnected or absorbed in their own lives and concerns. Try not to judge this as callous or unfeeling. The waves of grief come and go – and distraction is a useful way of dealing with strong emotions. Try to accept wherever they are emotionally as their process – and right for them.

Whatever you experience with your young adults’ homecoming in the next week, remember that the strength found in family and loved ones is a source of real healing for all of us. Patience, as well as grace and forgiveness for ourselves and one another, will definitely be important ingredients in all our Thanksgiving and holiday preparations.

Written by Dana Gold, Chief Operations Officer, JFCS