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They say that “the only thing permanent in life is change,” and that may well be true. But just because change is natural doesn’t make it any easier.
My 17-year-old daughter Lauren will soon begin her senior year of high school. My 19-year-old daughter Alexandra is heading back to Virginia to start her sophomore year of college. (You could say it’s a bit stressful in our house at the moment.)
Parenting is all about weathering transitions. Each step along the way first tooth, first day of kindergarten, first time behind the wheel we celebrate our child’s new milestone, but deep down, a part of us is heartbroken as a chapter of our child’s life comes to an end.
Some transitions can be particularly tough. Even life events that are typical and expected – like starting puberty or moving up a grade – can feel like a big deal to tweens and teens (and parents). It’s the newness, the anticipation and the fear of the unknown that causes anxiety and stress.
“Periods of transition are hard for anyone children and adults alike,” explains Tessa A. Vining, LMSW, Director- Phoenix House IMPACT Program, Adolescent Substance Abuse Program. “And what happens during periods of transition is anxiety and stress levels go up , which makes a person more vulnerable and more at-risk to alcohol and substance misuse.”
So what can parents do to help our kids successfully handle big life changes like going back to school, moving to a new town and puberty? Here are 10 tips from experts, fellow parents and yours truly:
1. Start the Dialogue
“If you know a milepost is coming up, talk to them about it,” says Ron Arden, counselor and life coach. Try saying:
You’re about to start a new school. I know when I was your age and I went to a new school, it was a little scary. How are you feeling?
We’re moving out of this area, and you’ll be going to a new school. You’re going to have to make new friends. What do you think it’s going to be like for you?
“Let them know that their anxieties are normal. Let them know that you understand it, and afterward ask, ‘How was it for you? Was it as bad as you thought?’ Oftentimes, I suggest parents give their child more information than they need, so that when your child comes home you’ll hear, ‘You know, it really wasn’t as bad as you made it out to be.’”
2. Let Your Child Vent
Listen to your child . Try not to interrupt with your running commentary. If you’re thrown off guard by something your child says, tell her you’ll get back to her. Then talk it through with a spouse or friend, and readdress the topic with your child when the time is right.
3. Ask Questions
My daughter Lauren never seems stressed about academics – it appears to come easy to her. I mentioned this once, and was surprised to hear that it is not the case. She is stressed but she doesn’t show it like my other daughter. This taught me the importance of checking in with my kids and probing a bit. Things are not always what they seem.
4. Eliminate Some of the Surprise
My colleague Denise Young Farrell, Director of Public Affairs, suggests pointing out details of what’s to come. “My daughter will soon be starting at new program at our local elementary. When we walk by the school, I try to tell her something new about what it will be like such as which entrance she’ll use or where she’ll play with new friends. Focusing on a few specifics can help eliminate some of the surprises, as there are sure to be some that sneak up on us!”