Finding the path to adulthood and success through uncertainty.

While your child becomes a legal adult the instant they turn 18, the transition to true adulthood isn’t so straightforward—it’s a process that spans several years both before and after they hit legal adulthood. Growing into an adult is exciting and scary for your child because it brings new choices and opportunities along with challenges and at least a little uncertainty. The appearance of COVID-19 has increased the challenges your child will face by affecting high school and college education paths, job opportunities, and daily life, introducing an extra portion of uncertainty to your child’s future. The pandemic will likely impact their senior year of high school or leave your recent graduate unsure whether they should take a gap year before entering a college or trade school.

Our desire to help our children can sometimes lead us to hover and try to solve their problems for them, but we need to help our children learn how to thrive on their own. Knowing exactly how to do that, however, especially considering the curveball that COVID-19 has thrown into the mix, can be incredibly difficult. The good news is that COVID-19 has likely provided you with extra time with your almost-adult child, which you can take advantage of to help give them a leg up in their next stage of life. Here are 5 things you can do to set your child up for a successful life.

1. Help your child set realistic goals and priorities.

You can help your child combat some of the uncertainty of the coming years by helping them set goals and priorities that they can focus on, as well as a basic action plan for how they’ll accomplish them. Your child can use this method for shorter term goals like getting a certain grade in a class or long-term goals like graduating college and starting their career. This gives your child direction, helping them to focus their efforts in an effective way and build marketable skills, but you should also make sure they know that plans sometimes change—and that’s okay.

The goals and priorities your child sets for themselves are meant to be a guide, not a rulebook, so your child shouldn’t feel nailed down by them; it’s okay if they decide to change majors or career paths. As long as they understand this, helping your child to get in the habit of thinking ahead and teaching them to work strategically towards their goals will build valuable skills that will help your child hit the milestones they need to achieve a successful future.

2. Model effective communication and build an attitude of mutual respect.

You should always do your best to model effective communication with your child, calmly and honestly explaining your emotions and opinions to them—and genuinely listening to them as they attempt to do the same. Doing this helps your child learn how to handle their emotions and how to communicate effectively and respectfully even when they’re upset. This is also a good way to help you and your child cope with the stress and uncertainty that COVID-19 has added to the mix. These skills will help them in their personal and professional relationships for their entire life, and it’ll help you maintain a positive relationship with your teen as they become more independent, fostering a sense of mutual respect instead of opposition. Plus, when your child does run into a problem or make a mistake, they’ll be more likely to come to you for advice.

3. Let go and allow your child to grow into a responsible adult.

We want the best for our kids, so it’s tempting to try and save them from making mistakes—even if doing so causes friction. You can always give your child advice, but for the most part, try to let go and allow them to begin making their own decisions (as long as those decisions aren’t dangerous and don’t break the rules, of course). Making mistakes is simply part of growing up; your child actually needs to make mistakes to learn and improve themselves.

That said, since growing up is a process, you don’t want to completely leave your child to their own devices; they still need a little support. Think back to how difficult your first few years after high school were—it’s a struggle, even without COVID-19 impacting your child’s college or career choices. Make sure your child knows that you’re right behind them if they need advice or help—a safety net, if you will—and that you’re fully present when your child needs you. Finding this balance can do wonders for your child, as it gives them the freedom and independence to make decisions for themselves and to learn a few hard lessons in the process.

4. Help them build the self-confidence to face life’s challenges with a smile.

Whether your child is aiming for a summer job, an internship opportunity, or interviewing to get their foot in the door of their dream career, first impressions carry a lot of weight in the interview process. For better or worse, the foundation of a first impression is the way your child looks, from the way they carry themselves to the clothes they’re wearing and the smile on their face. In fact, one study found that 48% of Americans remember a person’s smile the most after a first meeting, beating out both the first thing someone says and the way they’re dressed.

Unfortunately, during the lean years of college, dental treatments usually aren’t at the top of your child’s priority list. Getting them cosmetic dentistry treatments while you have the chance, such as crowns, veneers, or Invisalign treatments, can give them a leg up on the competition—not just by improving the appearance of their smile, but by improving your child’s confidence in their smile. They’ll be able to deliver a wider, more confident grin when they meet someone new, helping them make a better first impression in their personal and professional lives. It’s a gift they’ll benefit from for the rest of their lives!

5. Encourage them to spend their free time productively.

Your child certainly needs a little down time to relax each day, but encourage them to spend a good chunk of their free time productively—especially if they have more free time than usual due to homeschooling or because they are taking a gap year as a result of COVID-19. This time in their life provides a great opportunity for them to build their résumé by focusing on growing “soft” employment skills, taking a few free or subscription-based online courses, or taking advantage of volunteer opportunities—all of which will look great on college applications or to potential employers.

You can also take advantage of the extra time you get to spend with them by teaching them valuable skills like budgeting, paying bills and taxes, and how to create an effective résumé and cover letters. These are all skills that they can carry into their college experience, career, and personal finances. Learning them now instead of in the moment will help the transition to adulthood and independence be easier and less intimidating than it would be otherwise.

Growing up will always involve a few growing pains, but it’s also an exciting time in your child’s life. By teaching your child a few essential skills and stepping back to let your child take on more responsibility, you can make the process easier—even amid the added uncertainty of COVID-19. Even more importantly, the support you provide to your child now can help you grow closer while allowing them to grow into independent, successful adults.