Backpacking in Brazil? You should probably try to find a bossa nova club. Off to Australia? Taking the time to work out how big a schooner of beer is will likely feature on your agenda.
HOW PREPARED ARE YOU AS A PARENT?
It’s not just the young people heading off on a gap year who have something new and different to look forward to: it’s a whole new world for parents too. You are probably aware of all the benefits of a gap year and pleased that your child (even though they won’t associate with this term anymore!) has the confidence and ambition to embark on a gap year, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be thinking about them and their safety.
It’s completely understandable to feel anxious when your child is heading off on a new adventure: not least because this may be the first time that they’ve been away from home for more than a week or two at a time. No matter how old our children are, it is natural for parents to worry about their safety and well-being, so we’ve put together a few things that may help you to ease gap year inflicted parental anxiety.
Help your gapper to plan their trip. It’s important not to take over but it’s ok for you to do some research into the places that they might be visiting. By understanding the sorts of places your child would like to visit, and the activities that they would like to try, you will be able to look into what options are out there. You can then discuss any potential risks or challenges in advance of the trip. The majority of the time, parents are pleasantly surprised at how wise their children have become!
Getting involved in the planning can also help reassure you that you’ll know where they’re going. This is a good opportunity to encourage your child to create a detailed itinerary and to let them know that you are interested and would like to know about any changes they make to their plans whilst they are away.
There are a number of practical things that you can do to make sure your child is prepared for their gap year which will, in turn, help to reassure that they are ready to go. Here’s an idea of some of the things that you can go through with them:
Going through this list with your gapper can help you to know that they are in control and that they are set up for a successful gap year.
Additional help on the practical elements of safety on a gap year can be gained from completing a gap year safety course, such as TravelSafe.
Have an open and honest conversation with your child about any concerns that you have. Be clear that you support them but also express any worries you have or perhaps any ‘red lines’ that you would like them not to cross. Let them know how important it is to you that they stay in touch regularly and keep you updated on their location and changes to their itinerary.
Set up regular communication and make sure that your gapper knows what your expectations are – but don’t be unrealistic here! You may want to have weekly phone calls or video chats, or prefer to rely on messaging; there’s no right or wrong way to communicate with each other as long as you’re both on the same page.
Let your gapper know that it’s ok to let you know when they’re finding things hard as well as the fun things. If they know that you won’t be begging them to get on the first flight home at the first sign of trouble, they’ll be more open to sharing their experiences with you. This will give you the confidence to know that they will be communicating honestly with you.
Speak to other parents who have children who have been on gap years or are also about to head off on a gap year. Look for online forums or support groups to connect with other parents in the same situation. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns and to offer others support where you can too.
The reality is that your son or daughter won’t always want to share their troubles with you. So it may also help you to know that they have someone to reach out to at any time who is suitably experienced to help them and who they will also be willing to speak to, even about personal matters. If you don’t know anyone personally who would fit this brief and who would be willing and available, then TravelAid is a perfect solution. That’s why we call it a ‘gap year safety net’ – it can be used as a genuine safety net by your gapper if required but it also affords real peace of mind with worried parents that it is in place, just in case.
Take time to practise self-care too. Looking after your own mental and emotional well-being is important as well as preparing your child. You’re probably aware of things that work best for you but, if you’re looking for some new ideas, you may wish to consider meditation, exercise, spending time outside in nature or taking up an old hobby that you used to enjoy doing.
Remember that going on a gap year is a fantastic opportunity for personal growth and learning. By preparing ahead of time, communicating and staying connected with each other and trusting your son or daughter to make good decisions, you can help contribute to making this gap year everything that it should be, a once in a lifetime experience that they will remember forever.
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