5 Tips to Help Your Child Transition to Adulthood

The transition from childhood into adulthood can be a struggle. If your adult child won't leave his cozy nest, Mighty Mommy's five practical tips can help them fly.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #626
The Quick And Dirty

Here are five ways to encourage a positive transition to adulthood:

  1. Know your child's capabilities
  2. Stop rescuing and foster independence
  3. Encourage self-advocacy skills
  4. Teach money management skills
  5. Own your part in their failure to launch

One goal that many parents share is the desire to raise self-sufficient, productive children who will positively contribute to society. That's definitely been high on my parenting list for all of my eight kids. As each one approaches that time when they must leave the nest, I feel a bittersweet pang of victory.

However, in today's society, many young adults aren't as anxious to fly the coop as in years past. In July of 2020, 52% of young adults resided with one or both of their parents, up from 47% in February, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of monthly Census Bureau data. The number living with parents grew to 26.6 million, an increase of 2.6 million from February.

If you have a chickadee that doesn't want to leave your family's safe and comfy environment, here are five ways you can help them take flight:

Know your child's capabilities

If you're a movie buff, you may recall the popular romantic comedy Failure to Launch, starring Matthew McConaughey. It's a hilarious take on how far parents will go to get an adult child out of the house. Although its intent was entertainment, it struck a chord with thousands of families who are in similar circumstances.

Just because your child graduates from college, celebrates a milestone 21st birthday, or is considering post-high school options, it doesn't guarantee their transition into adulthood.

There are dozens of reasons our adult children may not be in any rush to leave their comfy childhood homes. These include:

  • Convenience - Everything is taken care of at home (meals, laundry, room service). Even the dog is attentive.
  • Finances - It's a financial burden for a child to live on their own.
  • Employment - They're in between jobs, or still haven't found one. Relocating or finding a new position might be taking longer than expected. Or their present job can't pay the bills.
  • Special Needs - A child with emotional/anxiety needs or one that has a learning disability may not be ready to live on his own yet. (If this is the case, you may want to seek professional support and additional resources for you and your child.)
  • Cluelessness - Thanks to helicopter parenting, many older kids aren't equipped to survive on their own. They are capable but haven't had the opportunity to develop the basic skills necessary to run their own household. 

You don't need to change the locks and hope for the best, but if you can get real and come to grips with what might be holding your child back, you'll have a starting point from which to launch him/her toward independence.

Speaking of which...

Stop the hand-holding and foster independence

Stop and evaluate all the tasks you do regularly to make your child's life easier. 

Do you make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for your twenty-something? Run errands like picking up toiletries, prescriptions, make bank deposits (or worse, withdrawals!), and continue to do other domestic chores? Are they lounging and binging on Netflix while you vacuum, do the laundry, take out the trash, and walk the dog?

Stop right there! It's time to teach your child the ropes of everyday living and stop enabling their dependence. 

Now is an excellent time to have a heart-to-heart with your young adult and take an inventory of the skills they have (and need). Don't assume that since they've been watching you do laundry their entire life, they magically know how to do it themselves. Same for making dinner reservations, refilling prescriptions, and any other everyday life task you can think of. 

Don't assume that since they've been watching you do laundry their entire life, they magically know how to do it themselves.

Encourage self-advocacy skills

Self-advocacy is a valuable tool for any human being, but particularly for someone navigating newfound independence. Learning how to make decisions about your own life and advocate for yourself is vital when living away from home.

Teach your kids how to have conversations with other adults, particularly teachers, bosses, and other professionals such as physicians, bankers, and pharmacists. Learning how to communicate with those in authority positions is a life skill that will help kids understand how to negotiate effectively and get their needs met as they transition into adulthood. Role playing is a great way to practice this essential skill. I constantly look for opportunities for my older kids to engage with other adults. Even tasks like placing an order at the deli or checking themselves in at a doctor's appointment garner an independent exchange.

It's time to teach your child the ropes of everyday living and stop enabling their dependence.

Teach money management skills

As I mentioned previously, arming your child with necessary life skills is a must. Equally important is equipping them with the proper financial skills.

In my episode How to Cut the Financial Cord with Adult Children, QDT's financial expert, Laura Adams, host of the popular Money Girl podcast, joined me to discuss the basics of setting any child up for financial success. 

She shares practical tips on how to navigate the murky waters of a financially dependent young adult. A huge takeaway for me was this advice:

"I think one of the most important tasks for parents is to begin setting expectations during high school and college. The 'fall-back' option for many adult children for moving home after graduation is something they take for granted. Parents who don't discuss their plans ahead of time must assume some of the blame when a child fails to launch."

Some of the big items that should be on the table for discussion are:

  • Opening and managing a savings/checking account.
  • Building credit and proper use of debit/credit cards.
  • Creating a budget.
  • Getting a handle on student loan debt.
  • Having a cell phone plan, auto insurance, and health insurance when they age out of their parent's plan.
  • Investment/savings/financial goals for large purchases and retirement.

For expert financial advice, listen to the Money Girl podcast.

Own your part in their failure to launch

A familiar experience that parents of adult children living at home share is complaining about the situation rather than taking action. I know because I was one of them! 

Channel your frustration into a positive action plan, which will benefit your young adult and yourself. None of us want to see our kids floundering, but like it or not, struggle is a part of life (and so is problem-solving).

Make a date with your child to sit down and review their situation; then come up with a plan. Having a timetable to reach goals is helpful and motivating. 

There may be some circumstances that are out of your control, but once you and your child get on the same page, you'll both be able to enjoy their first solo flight instead of being grounded indefinitely.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.