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A year to cheer – How to support your child during their gap year

A gap year is an undeniable opportunity for your child to grow and develop in new ways that their schooling mightn’t have permitted them to. Even if you’re not convinced it’s the best idea they’ve ever had – let’s face it, the concept of your child delaying their tertiary studies can be daunting – it’s crucial that you support them throughout this huge part of their post-school journey.

Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’re experiencing a mix of emotions, ranging from apprehension to sadness, excitement and beyond. So, what’s the best way to show your support as your child embarks on this next stage of their life? Here are a few ways to get started.

Explore – and reinforce – their ‘why’

Encourage thoughtful and thorough conversations with your child about what their reason for taking a gap year. Perhaps they’re in dire need of a break after 12 years of schooling and the emotional and social toll of living through COVID lockdowns. Maybe they want to travel or are keen to gain some independence by working or living away from home.

Whatever it is, define it, and encourage them to reflect on it now and throughout their gap year. It’ll be the guiding light when those ‘character building’ moments inevitably come their way, whether that means fending for themselves in a new place, dealing with the ups and downs of full-time work, or trial and error in finding their passion. Ultimately, there’s no point without purpose, so make sure they have a reason to see them through.

Establish what’s to gain

If your child is toying with the idea of a gap year, rather than focusing on the next phase of their education, help them see what’s to gain. You may feel a little out of control, or scared by the idea of letting them fend for themselves, but seeking new experiences can provide many positives for their personal growth. Discuss the things they might get to do and the skills and traits they could cultivate during a year away from study and assignments.

There are the tangible experiences of travelling, gaining practical knowledge in the workplace, and volunteering, that will benefit them for years to come. Then, there’s the personal growth, a component of the gap year that’s sorely overlooked. Gap years are an unmatched way to develop resilience, independence, compassion, work ethic cultural awareness and more.

Practice positive framing

As the start of their gap year looms on the horizon, uncertainty is sure to creep up – for both you as a parent, and for your child as the person about to leap into the unknown! Getting bogged down by stress and worry ahead of this experience can lead to deep-seated doubt, so practicing a positive mindset is key.

Encourage them (and yourself!) to reframe worries by talking them through and finding that positive spin. For instance, if they’re stressing about taking time off ahead of uni and being ‘behind’ their peers, turn it around to focus on the unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience they’re having, and reinforce that their year off will also ensure their future plans are well-suited to them in the long term. This practice will maintain those positive feelings in favour of excitement and optimism. Establish this mental habit at the beginning of their gap year as it’s sure to come in handy as they progress through their time off. After all, there are bound to be bumps along the way, so help them handle the hardships with ease by setting them up for success with this technique.

Discuss their goals

If your child is taking a gap year, they may have a goal or two they’d like to accomplish before beginning their tertiary studies. Hone in on these goals and make them a central part of the gap year experience to add a sense of anticipation.

Encourage your child to write down their goals and list out the steps they’ll need to take to achieve them. For instance, if they’re using the year as a way to make money, they might like to nominate a dollar value and set up a new bank account to help them save. Whatever is on their agenda for their gap year, lay out the framework and create gentle goals and check-ins along the way to motivate and inspire.

Encourage safe risk-taking

A gap year is possibly the first opportunity your child has ever had to extend themselves and step out of their comfort zone. They’re free to make their own choices, and subsequently, to deal with the consequences – a prospect that can create elements of fear and doubt.

To combat this, lay the groundwork for safe risk-taking, wherein your child will feel comfortable facing their fears. You might like to discuss the pros and cons of a possible situation with them or evaluate the worst-case scenario. Put their mind at ease by offering your support and establishing coping mechanisms they can use if feeling uncomfortable at any point throughout their gap year.

Check your mindset

Finally, to really show your support, a mindset shift might be in order. If you’re still feeling a bit apprehensive about your child’s gap year, despite all of the planning and thought that goes into it, it’s worth taking a step back to reflect. While taking a gap year might not be the choice you’d envisioned for your child, it’s undeniable that this is a huge opportunity for them to learn and grow. Remember, a gap year is just a break – one they wholeheartedly deserve after a busy 12 or more years of school – and doesn’t mean that tertiary studies have been forgotten about.

Supporting your child leading up to and throughout their gap year is crucial – after all, knowing they’ve got you on their side will help them to relax, feel comfortable and take calculated risks. Best of all, it’ll ensure they enjoy the experience, knowing that you’ll be there for them along the way.

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