This is Part 16 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABC’s for Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Top Three Take-Aways:
- Start building skills and setting expectations early. It can be challenging to balance support for your children and respect for their independence, and that balance shifts as they enter adulthood.
- Look ahead to the oft-overlooked skills and practical plans for how to be an adult. Help teens and young adults start making those plans before they leave home.
- Give yourself – and them – time and grace. The transition from child to adult doesn’t happen overnight, though it can feel that way. Allow your young adult time to keep learning and growing without losing you as their safe space. And allow yourself time and space to adjust to the new dynamic between you and your grown child.
By the time your children are entering adulthood and preparing to leave home for higher education, jobs, travel, service, or other plans, they’ve already conquered many milestones.
All of those milestones took time and effort to achieve. Children needed practice and patience before they could toddle their first steps, learn their first words, read their first book, or master their first game or sport.
It takes time to build the skills they need to live independently, as well.
One of the most helpful things parents and caregivers can do is help children and teens build skills early. Give them opportunities to pick up life skills by bringing them in at age-appropriate levels for some adult tasks and decisions. Children can help alongside you with laundry, dishes and cooking. As they get older, encourage them to do these things on their own. They’ll need to be able to eat and keep their home sanitary even if we can’t expect that they’ll always eat healthy or keep their home completely clean.
Involve children in some of the time management decisions in your household so they can start understanding the challenges of balancing work, school, family and fun when there are only 24 hours in a day. Find opportunities for them to spend on a budget – maybe back-to-school shopping or buying a friend’s birthday gift. They can ease into some of these skills during their elementary and middle school years, then continue to build them through high school and into adulthood.
For teens and young adults, start conversations and expectation-setting with plenty of time before they leave home. It can be easy for parents or caregivers to lean too far in one direction. They may assume that at 18, they need to disengage and let their children be fully independent, when the reality is that settling into living independently takes time and can be overwhelming. Other parents may instead want to be heavily involved in many aspects of their adult children’s lives, which can be stifling.
Talk with you grown children about what they can and can’t rely on you for as they become more independent. They should know that they can still talk to you, they can visit and have a safe space, and they can always reach out to you if they are in crisis. But they also should know that some things are their responsibility. They shouldn’t count on a bottomless budget (particularly for non-essentials) or that someone will do their laundry or remind them about an upcoming test or a change in their work schedule.
Don’t forget the details
You probably have a lot of know-how from your own experiences that the teens or young adults in your life haven’t learned yet. Think about potential pitfalls and opportunities, including what you wish you’d known more about before you lived on your own. Examples of topics to talk to your adult children about include:
- Benefits and drawbacks of credit cards or loans. There’s a lot to consider with household finances and day-to-day expenses, too.
- How to schedule their own doctor or dentist appointment. That can be intimidating the first time, and you don’t want them to delay medical care because they just never got around to booking an appointment.
- Speaking of medical care, do they have their insurance information handy? Do they know where to go for urgent care if there’s something that can’t wait for an appointment?
- And, before we depart from healthcare topics, are they up-to-date on vaccines? They should have all their recommended childhood and adolescent immunizations, and there are a few to keep in mind specifically before they leave for college dorms or other communal living situations. This includes vaccines that protect against HPV and meningitis.
- If they own a vehicle, make sure they understand the importance of keeping up with maintenance – delaying routine care for your vehicle can make driving dangerous, and repairs more expensive in the long run. Their car insurance should always be up-to-date and they need to have the information with them whenever they are driving. If they won’t have a vehicle with them, make sure they are comfortable with using public transportation to get around, too.
- Encourage them to register to vote, and to keep their address and voter information updated.
- Make sure they know what utilities and other services they rely on, and how to follow-up if there is problem. Do they know what to do if something gets broken or service gets disrupted, how to check their billing information, what is or isn’t included in their rental agreement, etc.?
- What else do you wish someone had prepared you for?
Give yourself, and them, time and understanding
The transition from childhood to adulthood always has its challenges, and that is particularly true in recent years.
People of all ages have gone through a lot, and young people may be feeling overwhelmed. They’ve likely tackled remote learning and changes or cancelations of big events. They may have lost loved ones or friends, or they may be reeling from a glut of stressful news and national issues. That’s on top of the normal pressures of stepping into adulthood – moving, working, studying, leaving longtime friends and making news ones, and so much more.
Encourage them to get involved in groups or clubs wherever they go and to start building connections and a support network. Take some time to figure out if there are mental health resources near them – often, these are available at college through campus clinics, for example. You can also share crisis support lines or chats, like the care crisis chat at http://www.imhurting.org.
Let adult children know that it is OK to ask for help. You can set high expectations for them without disengaging completely. Cheer them on in their next adventures but don’t judge if they need to reach out when they hit a stumbling block.
And remember that you can ask for help, too. You may be going through a lot of emotions as your children become more independent. You can be excited and proud of them while also feeling sad that the earlier days of their childhood are gone.
Celebrate who your children have become and the relationship you have with them, even as it changes. Young adults tend to be curious, passionate and fun. They still are learning so much, including who they are and where they want to go next in life. Being there for them as adults is just another chapter in the lifelong story of being their parent or caregiver. There are more treasured memories to look forward to, as long as you keep that connection.
A healthy connection requires finding the right balance of respecting their independence and adulthood, while still being there for them because – no matter how old they get – they'll always be your child. It can take quite a bit of time, and some bumps in the road, to find that balance. Be patient, allow yourself and your child some space, and keep being one of their trusted people.
Helping them prepare for takeoff may seem overwhelming, but watching them fly is worth it.
Take some time now to check off the “P” in the ABC’s for healthy kids. Are your grown children ready to take off on their own?
Take the time to talk with teens and young adults, and to build the skills and knowledge that will help them thrive on their next adventure.