Managing Transitions

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Adolescence is full of transitions - teens are moving into young adulthood, exerting their independence, forming new relationships and transforming others, and finding ways to express their beliefs and desires. While this time is full of critical gains, it’s also (unsurprisingly) volatile. Adolescents are going through an important period of self-discovery, but they are also in a constant state of limbo, caught between their younger selves and the adults they are becoming.

Each fall, this transitional period becomes even more acute as students head back to school. Some are returning to a familiar environment, while others are making the jump from middle to upper school, or upper school to college. And all school-age children (and their families) are making the transition back into structured and tightly scheduled school-life after less-structured summers.

These transitions are often a time of high stress and anxiety for students. There are new sets of academic and social expectations to learn, and it can feel like being thrown in the deep end. Parents and educators can help ease some of these growing pains by offering support, setting strong boundaries, and helping children keep perspective about what they’re experiencing.

Tips for helping with transitions:

  • Set clear expectations, and hold them consistently: Teens do best when they have structure, clearly communicated expectations, and consistently implemented consequences. The beginning of the school year is a great time to re-establish old routines, and introduce new ones that can help support healthy development. It’s also a great time to have conversations about why the rules and structures you have in place are important - these kinds of conversations help build buy-in and trust, and provide a good foundation for future conversation about expectations and consequences.
  • Help children understand that failure is normal: Many students experience an extreme amount of pressure to be successful, and a disappointing grade or a mistake in an athletic match can feel like a crisis. Send clear messages to children and teens that trying hard at something and hitting roadblocks is a normal part of learning. Helping students understand and experience these disappointments as a routine part of their growth will support their mental health and sense of self-worth.
  • Foster positive, supportive communication: In our work, we frequently come across students who are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety but don’t want to share that information with adults because they’re afraid to disappoint them. To combat this, clearly communicate that your care and concern is not contingent on your child or student’s success. Reminding young people that you are there to support them, not judge them, is critical to ensuring that they will come to you for help when they are distressed.
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