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Transitions: Helping your child navigate to a new school or on to college

Photo by Wave Break Media.

Consider a visit to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t speak the same language and you aren’t familiar with the local customs. This is how one student described the transition from high school to college. It is certainly an exciting time for young adults, but it can also be daunting and challenging to navigate, because there is so much change.

Though the path after high school looks different for every individual, research agrees that a strong social support network is critical to a young adult’s success. It’s never too early to start creating opportunities for your child to branch out of his or her comfort zone to develop skills and make new connections.

Here are a few suggestions that can be readily implemented with kids of all ages to help promote strong relationships and positive habits.

1. Help your child create friendships outside of the school setting. It is convenient for a student to make friends at school, but it makes the transition from high school more difficult when his or her entire social network disperses after graduation. Consider letting your child participate in summer camps, sports, church groups or hobby-related clubs. These activities make great opportunities for children and young adults to bond over shared interests.

2. Model for your child how to ask for and receive help. When students leave high school without the skill of self-advocacy, they are more likely to be isolated and to struggle when challenges arise. Encouraging your child to ask for help from adults teaches them a critical skill that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Prompt them to reach out to teachers about questions for assignments and allow them the space to navigate these conversations independently.

3. Encourage volunteering and work in the community. Not only do these opportunities help expose children to career options, new ideas and different people, they also help kids learn to positively engage with other peers and adults. Involvement in these activities can act as a constant as they transition to their next setting. Help your teen identify an organization that they’d like to volunteer with. There are ample opportunities to volunteer at food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Consider part-time jobs for your child as well, such as mowing the neighbor’s lawn or walking their dog.

4. Acknowledge when your child has a strong role model in his or her life and encourage your son or daughter to identify them as a mentor. It’s important for your child to have trusted adults in their lives besides you that they can reach out to for support and advice. Mentors can be significant throughout the transition process as they can write letters of recommendation, help solve problems and provide suggestions for schools and careers.

5. Plan ways to get connected and involved at the post-secondary level. Attend orientation activities, research clubs related to interest areas and find out if there are internship opportunities available for future career interests. Encourage him or her to participate in community events such as art walks, farmer’s markets and volunteer projects. Also, look into job shadowing and internship opportunities.

Hattie Linam, a former Arizonan, is national director of Community Education and Transition at the Rockville, Maryland-based College Living Experience, a provider of post-secondary supports for young adults with learning differences.

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