enabling adult children

Enabling Adult Children: 5 Rules For Stopping Enabling Behavior

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Watching our children experience discomfort and struggle is not something parents enjoy. Because we love our children, it is natural to want to comfort, protect and prevent any type of pain for our children. However, sometimes discomfort and struggle are vital to our adult child’s growth. While it is out of love, many parents are guilty of enabling adult children. While the desire to help your child is a perfectly natural feeling, stopping enabling behaviors is crucial to making sure your child gets back on track to a normal adult lifestyle.

As parents, it can be difficult to recognize what behaviors are enabling our adult children. When we try to “right the ship”, we often go overboard with our actions.  Stopping enabling behavior This doesn’t mean kicking your child into the street with no warning or casting him or her off. It does mean establishing boundaries and setting consequences for crossing those boundaries.

Five Rules For Stopping Enabling Behavior

Here are five rules you can start implementing right now to prevent enabling behavior and help your adult child on a path to independence, learning, and becoming a self-sufficient, responsible adult.

1. DO NOT Lend Your Adult Child Money If You Suspect They Are Self Medicating

This is a hard one for many parents. Children have a way of pulling at their heartstrings, and no parent wants to see their child go without. However, funding your child’s self-medication is an example of enabling behavior, and can be detrimental to his or her success as an adult.

If your child explains that he or she needs money for gas to get to work or lunch to take to class, offer him or her a ride, or to let them make a sandwich. If you suspect they are self-medicating, do not offer to lend or give them any money.

2. Establish Rules, Limits, and Boundaries

When establishing boundaries and setting limits for your adult child, it is crucial to remain calm and assertive as you approach him or her about the subject. Even if he or she gets emotional or irrational, it is vital to make sure that you are the voice of reason.

  • Setting Financial Boundaries : Explain you will not be indiscriminately providing spending money for anything- gas, food, clothes, nothing. Establish that he or she will need to obtain employment and earn any spending money.
  • Setting Household Boundaries: Remember: your house, your rules. Establish that substances are not to be brought into your home, used in your home, and that if he or she comes home under the influence, that there will be consequences. Setting household boundaries may involve establishing rules for responsibilities such as laundry, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, etc. This may also involve restricting access to television, internet, or video games until a desired task or chore is completed (i.e. helping out with housework or applying for a job/school).
  • Setting Rules for Autonomy: While many young adults are used to being on their own schedules, parents still deserve common courtesy. If your child is living at home, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a courtesy text if he or she will miss dinner. While it is fine for him or her to keep their own schedule, coming home late and waking up those who have to work in the morning is not fair. Establishing a household curfew is perfectly acceptable because: your house, your rules.

3. Stick to Your Established Boundaries and Set Consequences

No means no. Period. Also remember, it is okay to say “I changed my mind.” It is also vital to stick to any established consequences regarding these boundaries. Remember, while your child may think that “partying” is just a normal part of growing up, self-medicating to cover up for an unresolved conflict, trauma, or mental health issue can actually be a quite dangerous habit.

4. Allow for Failure

Failure is a normal, healthy part of identity development. While offering to help pick up the pieces if he or she falls is okay, you have to let them stumble. If you don’t let them figure out things for themselves, it will be much more difficult for them to learn things on their own. And remember: failure means they’re trying!

5. You Can’t Give a Person Self Esteem

Self-esteem is earned by trying, failing, trying again, and succeeding. Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Self-esteem isn’t something you can instill in your child; it is something they have to earn.

Possible Effects Of Enabling Your Adult Children

The biggest negative side effect of enabling adult children is that you prevent them from learning the skills needed to be successful and independent in their own life.  While it can be difficult to watch our adult children struggle financially, socially, with work or other responsibilities, every time you step in and solve a problem or ease a burden, you are taking away a learning opportunity. You stunt their growth by removing exercises that build confidence, teach them new skills, and require responsibility. Consider a basic skill like tying your shoes.  This is a skill most children acquire by the time they are in elementary school.  As parents, we know it is important to teach them because we aren’t with them at school all day; we know they need to be able to tie their shoes when the bow falls out.  However, if you always tie their shoes, showed up any time their shoe came undone or chose to purchase shoes that didn’t require a tie, they would never have the opportunity to learn that skill and implement it. This would not only limit the shoes they could wear as an adult, but there are other instances where tying a bow or knot would be needed and your adult children wouldn’t have this skill. This is the same process as other aspects of adulthood. We, as parents, do not want to remove opportunities for growth that will benefit our children throughout their lives.

Building Self-Esteem In Your Young Adult

Enabling adult children prevents opportunities to build self-esteem. If your child hasn’t had a lot of chances to build their own confidence and self-esteem, you can be the catalyst, and it’s important that you are. 

“This is the most overlooked consequence of enabling.  When we constantly step in to help or do for our kids, they get the message that they’re incapable.”  – Andrew Taylor

Here are three ways you can start helping to improve your young adult’s self-esteem today.

1. Show Confidence

If your child sees that you have confidence in them, they will feel empowered to try. When someone else shows a level of trust and belief in our abilities, it can give us courage and confidence. Nurture their self-esteem by showing honest confidence in your adult child’s abilities.

2. Listen

Never underestimate the power of listening to your adult children. Regardless of their age, our children want to know they matter. They want to know that what they have to say and feel is of importance.  Sometimes it takes more effort to listen than to offer advice, but when you listen, your child will feel nurtured and respected.

3. Let Them Fail

This may be the hardest task, but it is one of the most important. When we step in and prevent failure, we are taking away a learning moment. It is important for our young adults to see, feel and experience the negative consequences of their choices so they can learn what to do to prevent that negative experience in the future. It’s important to experience failure when the consequences are smaller. As we get older the consequences get much bigger when we don’t show up because we have more responsibilities. Failure is one of the best teachers and we want to instill confidence by letting our children stumble, learn how and why they stumbled, and then try again.

Self-Medication In Young Adults

Self-medication in young adults can be dangerous. Our white paper will share the dangers of self-medicating, signs of self-medication in young adults, ways to stop enabling adult children, and ways you can support your young adult through treatment.

If you are feeling concerned about your young adult, please download our whitepaper for ways you can help them. If you want to learn more about Pure Life’s adventure therapy program, please contact us today.

Download Your FREE White Paper

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