My daughter wants to take a year off before university – what should I do?

The question:


My daughter gets excellent grades and wants to be a doctor. She’s been accepted for pre-med at several schools with full scholarship. But now she’s talking about taking a year off before university. I think she’s scared that things won’t be as easy for her as in high school, but I’m worried that a year off will only deepen her anxiety and knock her careers plans off course. What should I do?


The answer:


As a parent, one of the most important things you want is to see your children be happy, healthy and thrive in their lives. The desire to protect your children and navigate them toward the best decisions is deeply ingrained. So it’s natural that this situation is creating some distress for you.


First, congratulations on raising not only an intelligent, but what sounds to be an insightful daughter. The reality is that university is a very different playing field than high school, and her worry is not unwarranted.


Worry or anxiety is not a bad thing; we have it for a reason. It mobilizes an action or a response to deal with a stressful (or perceived stressful) situation; it indicates to us that we value the thing we are feeling worried about; and it communicates to those around us that we may need some support.


Your daughter’s response is a normal reaction to a coming and significant transition in her life.


There are a few things I would suggest you do: Try to understand the depth of your daughter’s anxiety. Find out whether her desire to take a year off is fully precipitated by anxiety or if other considerations are playing a role. Give her reassurance about her ability to successfully cope with the transition. And openly communicate your concerns to her.


Start by saying how proud you are of her and that your desire as a parent is to see her succeed and excel in life. Convey that you understand she is worried about things being harder at university and that she is right that things may be challenging. Let her know that you have confidence in her skills to adjust. Ask her what is motivating her to take a year off and what she wants to do in that time. Then listen.


You indicate that you think her decision is motivated by fear, but this may be a very small part of it. She may be thinking that if she is going to take a break from school, now is the time before she starts to undertake a decade-plus of additional schooling. The reality is that it will be much more difficult to consider a year off once she begins her studies. Perhaps she is thinking of travelling, or working and making money.


If she continues to live at home, establish some motivating parameters. For example, let her know that if she is not attending school she is expected to work and pay rent, and that she needs to increase her contribution to the household (through cleaning, cooking and so on). To calm your worry, remind yourself that for most young adults, a year of working in the real world at what will likely be a low paying, less than ideal job actually has the opposite effect of motivating them to go back to school sooner.


Ultimately, you need to trust your daughter’s decision as she is an adult, and also have confidence that you have raised a young woman who will make the right decision.


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