Is your child failing to launch?
Have you ever fought with your older teenager or young adult over doing an “adult” task? You know the task is necessary, but you can't figure out why they “forget”, avoid or refuse to do it. This is so common, it is usually referred to as failing to launch.
What causes a child to fail to launch?
As teenagers grow into adults, their bodies and brains are changing so they can become an adult. But just because the brain and body have changed does not mean a teenager feels like an adult. Often, they get stuck with the uncomfortable feeling of ‘now what do I do’?
As parents, we expect our older children to be responsible for managing their daily lives. But for a young adult this responsibility can create a lot of anxiety and fear.
We all fear the unknown. We like routines and knowing what to do. But for young adults most tasks they do fall into the unknown category of life. It may be the first time they have to do something on their own. They need to learn to set appointments, apply for jobs, register for classes, file taxes, etc.
Some children do fine with the unknown. But others struggle because they have no idea what to expect or what is expected from them. This leads to them putting up a wall or shutting down to avoid the unknown. As parents, we see this as “forgetting” to do things, avoiding a task or flat out refusing to do something.
What exactly is happening?
Young adults who are failing to launch, are often struggling because of a fear of the unknown. They don’t understand the process or what to say or how the other party is going to react. All these unknowns prove to be too overwhelming and so they tell themselves it is safer if they don’t do it.
Even if there are consequences, it is not necessarily enough of a motivator for action. Why? Because the consequence is generally known. Fear will usually make those struggling with action choose the known. Because it is often viewed as less dangerous than the unknown they are facing.
So what can we do as parents?
Go back to the basics. As parents, our main job is to teach our children how we expect them to act. So just because your child is older does not mean your teaching days are behind you.
Ask your child what feels hard about the task. What are they worried about? Listen to their answer and then offer to do the task with them, like they are your shadow. This way they can see an example that takes away the unknown. Let them see how a business call goes, how to fix an error on a bill, how to talk to the bank about their account, etc.
Once your child sees what they have to do, most will feel relieved and ready to do the task the next time.
If your child indicates they still have fear, then practice with them again. For the second time though, let your child take charge and you be the shadow. This will give them the security of knowing they have backup. But at the same time it will give them the experience of how to handle the situation.
As parents we sometimes forget what it is like to be a child. Fear of the unknown can lead children to question their capability. This in turn can result in them avoiding life. These feelings do not usually go away by themselves. Nor do they disappear because your child now looks like an adult.
Fight the urge to do the task for your child. Instead, teach your child they are capable through practice.
For those parents that are reading this to prevent a failure to launch:
You can set your child up for success through chores beginning at an early age. Sprinkle in bringing them along for errands or listening in to calls with businesses. Modeling how to do adult tasks will make them more confident as they grow.
Modeling is one of the best ways to teach a child, so let your child see what you do!