Text Size

Talking to your young adult children on winter break

Many of us are expecting our young adult children home for the winter break. Yet, for some of our adult children who live out of town, this particular homecoming carries a weight of tragedy and loss that they have had to experience in isolation from their family, community and childhood friends.

Parental hopes for a happy and warm break 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 holiday tables.

  • Anticipate your adult children’s needs to be with their old friends over the break. 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 Squirrel Hill shops busily serving customers at a normal pace, may seem callous to individuals who have been waiting to grieve until they came home.
  • 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 their expectation is that life at home stays 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.

If you are seeing unusual signs of upset, we want you to know there are ways to reach out for help. If your loved one is not sleeping, reacting in unusual ways (more irritable, angry, crying and sad, nervous/jumpy) than usual, abusing substances or themselves, we suggest you offer them the following opportunities to get help.

  • Support Groups for young adults at The Center for Victims:
    • December 26 at 3 PM, January 3 at 7 PM at the Center for Victims for college students who are members of one of the 3 congregations. Register with Ellie at 412-422-7200.
    • January 7 at 7 PM at the Center for Victims for all college students (beyond the 3 congregations). Register with Ellie at 412-422-7200.
  • Counseling Services at JFCS as well as at the Center for Victims can be arranged by calling either organization or once again, calling Ellie at 412-422-7200, for a brief assessment of need and appropriate connection with a counselor.
  • Hotline Services can be reached by calling either the Pittsburgh Rape Crisis center’s “warm-line” to speak to a helpline counselor day or night 24/7 (1-866-363-7273 – when prompted press 2) or the Center for Victims 24 hour crisis hotline at 1-866-644-2882.

Whatever you experience with your young adults’ homecoming in the next few weeks, 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 the important ingredients in all our preparations for a healthy and happy new year.