As a parent, you want what’s best for your child. But when your child leaves home to begin their venture into the role of “adult child,” it can be tough to continue to ensure that your actions ensure the best for them.
Being the parent of an adult child might be new territory for you, and it’s one with a steep learning curve. To help you out, here’s how therapists reveal 6 ways to empower and motivate your adult child.
1. Allow Failure
As a parent, you only want the best for your adult child. The last thing you want is to see them suffer and fail. But that’s something that you have to do eventually, and in fact, failure is something kids should have always been allowed to do, even at a younger age. Failure can empower your child, teaching them to pick themselves back up again and showing them their strength.
The goal for you would be to gradually remove the security nets beneath your children as they reach adulthood, so they begin to experience problems without your cushioning. According to Brigham Young University’s College of Family, Home and Social Sciences professor, and associate dean Laura Padilla-Walker, this can be pretty stressful in early adulthood. It can often even feel like a bit of a balancing act.
Not sure what constitutes “not allowing” your child to fail? Consider the following ways you may be doing so:
- Try to save your children from any setbacks by constantly giving them instructions to follow when learning of their plans, goals, or life events.
- Doing what you can to stop your children from embarrassing themselves by making the same mistakes you did, likely to avoid them inadvertently embarrassing you.
- Guilt-tripping your child for making mistakes or doing things you believe are unwise or inadvisable.
- Treating each failure by a child as a sign of their incompetence instead of accepting that it’s a normal part of young adulthood
2. Focus On The Positives
It’s natural for human beings to focus more on the negative sides of things than the positive sides. Unfortunately, this can be very bad for adult children who may constantly feel like their parents are always on their case about something bad. The fact is that people of all ages learn best from healthy and correctly used positive reinforcement than from any punishment or scoldings.
Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D., who is a psychologist and parent coach renowned across the country for his expertise on children of all ages (including adult children), suggests the act of focusing on what he calls “islands of motivation.” This means looking for little positivity pockets to commend your adult child on to show that you notice and appreciate the good things your child does. The praise is likely to result in more positive behavior.
Better yet, islands of motivation are easy to build on. Have you ever noticed that after you buy a new car, you have a higher chance of noticing people who have the same make and model as it? Well, that’s because you, like all human beings, experience selective attention. Selective attention is a concept that means that you’re more likely to notice it than other things when you focus on one thing.
So when you start looking for and pointing out the positive things your child does, you’re likely to see more of that positivity as time goes on. But if you only seek the negative, you’ll continue only seeing the negative until you wind up inadvertently pushing them away.
3. Stay On The Same Page
Your relationship with your child is going to change as they grow older and older. It’s important during that time to communicate effectively to stay on the same page. Boundaries are going to shift now and then, and as a parent, you might feel hurt by some of the boundaries your child wants to put in place.
Remember, the boundaries aren’t meant as an insult to you in any way. They’re a symbol that your child has grown up and wants to be independent. In the same way that you didn’t like your parents constantly badgering you once you became an adult, your child doesn’t want to feel like a kid anymore with you.
Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence associate director Robin Stern recommends regular conversations regarding boundaries, independence, and finding solutions for uncomfortable situations. Check-in regularly with each other and agree on certain boundaries that you can both be happy with. For example, agree to do the following behaviors:
- Contact each other and touch base every three days, with a video call on Saturdays.
- Your child will talk about who they’re dating within two months of developing a defined romantic relationship with someone.
- Make a workable schedule for spending holidays with each other, such as alternating which holidays are spent with you every year.
These boundaries empower your child by showing them that their voice matters in your adult relationship. They’ll feel more comfortable talking to and interacting with you, and those boundaries will give them independence and motivation to work on their own lives on their own.
Unfortunately, many parents fall into bad habits of being unhelpful or negative during interactions. These will not only hurt, dampen, and even push away your child, but they can damage your relationship with them in the long term. Bernstein lists the following types of interactions you should avoid:
· Dwelling On The Past
It’s normal to have a conflict with your child sometimes, but once it’s done, it should be done, dusted, and left in the past. Please don’t continue to bring it up in the future when you’ve already amicably resolved the problem. Doing so will only teach a child to hold grudges against you and everyone else.
Threats mean much less to an independent adult, and they come across as cruel and manipulative. Your child is likely to be defiant when you threaten them, worsening conflict.
· Guilt Injection
A child’s feelings and thoughts are not a reason for shame or guilt. Even when questionable or mistakes, their actions are not good reasons to begin guilt-tripping them at every turn. When used against children, guilt usually just alienates them, resulting in long-term damage to your relationship.
When your children become adults, you’re past the point of lecturing. Lecturing is one-sided and condescending. Instead, it’s time to be a mentor. Mentoring involves patient listening and limited advice, with wisdom provided only when needed and never with the intent to control, only offer alternative perspectives.
· Heavy And Hurtful Sarcasm
Sarcasm is a kind of humor that can be fun to use at the right time. But if you only use sarcasm all the time, especially during moments when you’re supposed to be conveying important information about a situation or your feelings, you’re just mean-spirited. Saying things like “Oh, wow, what a smart decision” when your child makes a mistake will make them feel worse and result in them not talking to you about their mistakes anymore.
You don’t get to dictate how another person feels. Adult children will be lost, confused, and experience many first-time situations like break-ups or being fired as they progress through life. Even if you think it’s not a big deal, you should never invalidate them. Be supportive and offer your kind, understanding words. Remember what you were like at their age!
5. Be Firm, Not Controlling
Being firm with your children doesn’t mean controlling them. No one likes to be controlled, and even young children can develop a controlling parent’s negative perceptions. In fact, walking that fine line by being responsive but encouraging independence is most empowering and can have positive effects on your relationship with your child.
Remember, your child is a unique, separate individual with their own set of thoughts, perspectives, and personality. It is not your place to shape them into who you want them to be; they’re sentient and have their own rights! Knowing when to back off and when to step in is tough but worth it.
The long and short of it is this: cut the strings tethering your child to your puppetmaster gloves, and your child will flourish and bloom through their independence. It’s a wonderful way to empower them, and they might surprise you with what they can achieve with your control!
6. Keep Growing, Too
As a parent, your life doesn’t stop just because your children leave your “nest.” You’re not just a parent. You’re an adult human being with your own goals, beliefs, talents, and thoughts. Just as you’ll never stop being a parent, you’ll also never stop being a unique, separate individual who deserves their own life and happiness.
Your chapter in raising your child at home has ended. Your role has evolved into something else, something more supportive than educational, and it can feel strange with an empty nest and a different way of looking at parenting. If you need to, spend a little bit of time saying goodbye to the previous role, but then get up and move on. Those who dwell for too long on the empty nest often lose their positive thinking and become depressed or lonely.
Instead of doing that, think of all the things you wished you had time for before but couldn’t do or afford it. Now you have the time, and you may have the disposable income! Progress in life! Learn new things! Work towards your dreams! Have and make friends! Find a purpose! Go on dates with your partner!
Yes, your life is changing. But the bottom line is this: life shouldn’t have stopped when you became a parent, and it shouldn’t stop now that your parenting role is shifting. Your children will be empowered by knowing they can have an adult relationship with you, and you’d be amazed just how rewarding adult parenthood can be. It’s enriching for you and them.
Parents can be protective of their children. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to keep your child happy and safe by holding them as close as possible. But while it’s an understandable sentiment, it’s not one you should follow through on, as it may hold your child back.
By letting your child spread their wings on their own, you’re empowering them in their independence and motivating them with your support. And my, what a beautiful thing that is!