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  • Stretch Out the Transition: 10 Ways to Stress Less

    Parents, here are 10 ways you can stretch out the transition process to help your graduating student stress less.

    Transition is inherently a time of change and upheaval. The challenges of adapting to a new way of living are daily and can be intense. Cumulatively, the cortisol and adrenaline that our bodies produce in order to rise to these challenges can cause problems associated with chronic stress. Stress management and coping strategies are very important, but too often we focus only on those we’ll need when we’re already feeling overwhelmed and neglect some simple actions we can take to prevent such an extreme situation.

    One strategy that can help prevent the challenge of a transition from becoming overwhelming is to stretch out the transition time. Begin the change process before it is a necessity. There are many reasons a family might struggle to do this, like not wanting to think about leaving where they live, or not wanting to feel their sadness about a child graduating and leaving home. Starting in on a transition means facing the grief of it, but it pays off in less stress later. Planning for the future also creates a sense of agency for the student about this transition which could otherwise seem inevitable and uncontrollable.

    Here are some ways a family might stretch out the transition of a high school senior’s shift to college in a new country. If that is not your situation exactly, be inspired by these ideas to think how you can begin your shift ahead of time.

    1. Calendar the changes: put on a calendar when even minor changes will occur so that you don’t pile six major changes into the same week. For example, if you can, don’t leave the country the same week they graduate. Move the pet to the new home a different day than they say goodbye to their friends.
    2. List adulting elements to be learned and train for the situations the student will face. Here are some examples:
    3. Get transport confident (part 1): Train ahead for the way they’ll get around. First, driving prep: This might mean practicing driving now, or if that’s not feasible, scheduling the Driver’s Ed course for when you arrive. Don’t forget to practice navigating using a cell phone and map if either is unfamiliar. Practice navigating using a cell phone hands free in the car since this is necessary in many places. Explore maps of the area where they will be driving. Since phone batteries die, get both a hard copy local map, and cell phone car charger It doesn’t hurt to put on paper in the glove box the number of a local(ish) rescue friend in case of an emergency, or being very lost. Don’t forget to practice gassing up the car. I think I was probably taught, but the first time I had to do it on my own, I was pretty confused. Take a field trip to the local, (ideally friend recommended) mechanic, go in, introduce the student and ask about typical prices. Here’s a great resource to help you think through transportation plans.
    4. Get transport confident (part 2): Public transportation and biking: Schedule practice trips. If parents can’t be along, ask a friend to come along who knows how to do this already. Worst case scenario, figure it out in advance when you’ve got lots of time. These plans are all about limiting the cortisol rush of a panic about not knowing what to do. For both public transportation and biking, but especially biking, take some time to learn what safety precautions and gear and maintenance plans will be needed.
    5. Learn some recipes: No need to be a chef, but learning how to make some familiar comfort foods and meals that will work in their new location is practical and confidence building. For example, figuring out how to make pitas at home in advance will ease culture shock. U.S. grocery stores usually sell awful pitas!
    6. Get money savvy: When I graduated, it was a checkbook that I had to learn how to use. What is it for your student? Where will the money come from? How much will it be? How will they get it? How will they track it? How and how much to save? Who will they ask about it? I made it to 26 without stepping into a physical bank, so I clearly remember the stress of feeling “old enough that I should know about this, but I don’t.” Prevent that if you can. You can’t anticipate everything, so instead your goal is to predict and minimize moments of cluelessness panic. Resources abound, including this one.
    7. Do one tech change at a time. Young people today may have grown up with technology, but even for the most tech-savvy a device or software transition is inconvenient! If the student will need a new computer or phone, or file back up plan, set these up one at a time, beginning as soon possible so they have time to “move in.” Plan for this shift to take place ideally when they are living with someone who can help them. DO NOT let this shift take place the same week they move out of the house. Schedule your tech shifts.
    8. Make sure to get to the campus orientation event. “I don’t know how to get to Walmart from here, but I do know how to get to the Admin building right now” said my relieved 18 year old self. One less thing to stress about.
    9. Try to be “nearby” during the height of the transition. This might mean going to the country a little earlier, or staying a little longer. If this sometimes is not physically possible, notes in boxes, scheduled calls, care packages or other efforts can reassure your student that you are there for them.
    10. Seriously consider a transition/re-entry seminar. These are designed for TCKs beginning to adjust to life in America (this list is anyway).

    These logistical efforts may seem nuts-and-bolts-y. You might think they’re the sort of thing that you could just figure out along the way, but left to chance, 8 of them could become a crisis in one day, leaving a student overwhelmed and stress-chemical filled. You can prevent that. It’s worth it!