Today, you don’t have to look far to see the warning signs of the increasing levels of anxiety and depression impacting our youth.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
This quote got me thinking.
How could we change our thinking to reduce mental illness? One word sprung to mind – ‘Prevention’. My studies in psychology, along with my own experience of severe anxiety during transitions (shared in my 2017 TEDx Talk), confirmed my belief for the need to continue the research and provide adequate resources to support youth transitions.
Whether it be starting school, transitioning to high school or finishing school, big changes are involved for both the child and their families. While they are years apart, they all have one thing in common, they involve a whole lot of new. New environments, new people, new rules and new skills required to adjust. It’s critical that we adopt a preventative model to increase youth resilience during these times.
Internationally, research shows the importance of supporting youth through transitions. With studies finding that even from a young age, that is, kids settling into their first year at school, they are at higher risk of learning difficulties throughout their schooling years and more likely not to graduate if their experience is difficult (Kern & Friedman, 2008).
From a positive point of view, studies have shown that students who have a positive beginning are found to be more relaxed, develop stronger relationships, improved learning and hold a stronger sense of belonging.
So, what framework can we use to support the transitions of youth globally? One that can be applied to all expected life transitions?
Using The GPS Model, made up of three pillars; the Guiding Pillar, the Psychological pillar and the Social pillar, we can prepare students practically, emotionally and socially to effectively navigate their way forward.
Firstly, The Guiding Pillar includes all the information the child can use to best prepare for their specific transition. For example what it will be like, what the differences will be, which skills they can learn to prepare for their new period, such as how to read a timetable at high school, how to tie their shoelaces for school or how to make a resume for after school.
Other activities that are helpful in reducing the stress and uncertainty of the future, include attending open days, speaking with other students and/or teachers from the new educational stage, visiting schools websites, support books and attending local information sessions.
The psychological pillar is essentially the emotional toolkit that we can use to equip students for the change. Some example printable positive interventions you can take away today can be found here. Note: Each of these tools is developed for use prior to the student making their transition.
We know that change is inevitable – however, our mindset isn’t. So, how can we build flourishing mindsets in youth? By encouraging them to cultivate a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is the belief our skills and abilities can grow, as opposed to being fixed. Teaching youth to cultivate a growth mindset increases the likelihood they will stick to activities, see increased performance and enjoy the activity more than if they see their abilities as fixed.
How does a growth mindset help when transitioning to something new? It helps students focus on what is within their control and reduces the crippling fear that they may be stuck in their current state forever. It helps them be proactive instead of reactive or disengaged.
This pillar refers to the importance of ones social network in supporting them through change. Key people involved are likely to include teachers, parents or carers, friends and also the student themselves.
These individuals not only provide support before and during the transition (including the techniques above) but also during the adjustment period after the transition is made.
While all humans have an innate desire to fit in and make social connections, we must be mindful this can take time. Studies on the importance of social belonging have found that when individuals start something new, it’s common they feel they’re the only one finding it tough, resulting in an internalization that they can’t cope.
However, studies show these feelings are normal and momentary. When students cultivate a sense of belonging in their new environment, their grades, persistence and general well-being are also found to increase.
This research emphasizes the importance of normalizing the feelings of anxiety when adjusting. Share a story with the transitioning child about a time when you started something new and felt unsure. Also encourage them to create friends within their new environment to facilitate the sharing of these new experiences.
It’s obvious these three pillars don’t sit in isolation from one another. Rather, they work most effectively when integrated. When applying The GPS Model, always consider how it can best be tailored to the specific transition.
In summary – when supporting a student or child through a major transition, refer to this GPS framework. Consider all they can learn about their new phase to build confidence, help them build their psychological toolkit and develop a growth mindset, and share an experience with them to connect while allowing them time to make new social connections.
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Finding Your Path Books are guidebooks created by positive psychology author Amba Brown to support the transitions of youth: starting school, starting high school and finishing school. You can find out more at findingyourpathbooks.com