Monday, November 29, 2010

Tackling Student Transitions

When your toddler smoothly transitioned from playtime to mealtime without too much fuss, you delighted in his developmental progress. Of course, the transitions your child faces will become progressively more challenging. Among the most daunting will be the ones that emerge during the school years.

According to Carol Carter, renowned expert on student success, you can play an important role as your child navigates the most difficult school transitions: elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. Carter, founder and president of LifeBound, has written ten books for students in grades five to twelve, including Success in Middle School, Gifts and Talents for Teenagers, and People Smarts for Teenagers. She has also written a book for parents titled Stop Parenting, Start Coaching.

Transitioning to Middle School

Students entering middle school often “lack the personal skills to negotiate a more complex environment,” Carter told me in a recent interview. Students are leaving the comforts of their single classroom setting and facing new academic expectations and social pressures.

You can help your child meet new challenges by skipping the lectures and encouraging thoughtful decision-making.

“When kids are eleven or twelve, it doesn’t work to give directives,” Carter says. “It works to ask them questions.” For example, if your child is associating with a peer whose behavior concerns you, ask your child, "What are the pros and cons of hanging out with someone who has those kinds of qualities; what do you think the cost might be?" This approach is more effective than prohibiting the relationship, Carter says.

“When parents use questions and become more of a coach, the student not only learns choices, options, and all of the different things that are possible, but they also learn great critical thinking skills,” Carter says.

Transitioning to High School

During the high school years, students should identify and develop their interests. “Parents can coach kids around getting experiences that are meaningful,” Carter says.

To guide your child toward her interests and goals, ask questions about what she likes to do, Carter says. “If they love computer games, instead of fighting that, ask, ‘What would you do if you could work in the area of computer games? Would you be the creative person developing ideas? What kind of summer job could you get?’”

Guiding your child toward school clubs and activities related to his interests will foster his connection to his high school and allow him to thrive, Carter says. In addition, encourage your child to pursue valuable experiences outside of school, such as internships.

Another important piece of advice: avoid protecting your child from the consequences of her actions. “Don’t rescue your child from the learning that needs to take place for your child to become an adult,” Carter says. “People who have not failed at anything are going to have a hard time in college”

Transitioning to College

To prepare for the college transition, parents “need to learn to develop a long leash when their child is in high school,” Carter says. “Otherwise they are lost when they get to college.”

While relinquishing some control, encourage your child to “take risks, make their own decisions, experiment,” Carter says. “Be comfortable with your child going down blind alleys. Do it while they’re in high school, so when they get to college they’ll be self-sufficient.”

It’s a good idea to ask your child to pay for a portion of her college education, Carter says. “They have to have a stake,” she says. Even if you can afford to cover the entire cost of your child’s college education, “it’s not a good message to send. It creates dependency.”

While in college, students should pursue experiences that prospective employers will value, such as study abroad or career-related internships, Carter says.

“A lot of people approach college the way they approached high school,” Carter says. "They get caught up in the social scene because they think that’s what you’re supposed to do, and then they don’t have options when they graduate.”

To prepare for a successful job search after graduation, college students should “do an internship to gain experience, join an organization, run for office, make something specific happen. Employers can ask you about that,” Carter advises.

“American schools are very lax compared with the rest of the world. If students want to be competitive, they need to learn a different language, get out of their neighborhoods, be diverse and interesting people,” Carter says. “College is a place to pursue these things.”

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