So far this month we have explored signs that may indicate a child is struggling, and the physical symptoms of anxiety. Both of those articles list some things that as a parent you can keep an eye out for to get a better understanding of how your child’s mental health is. However, a large portion of our audience are emotionally supporting adult children who are struggling; some of whom no longer live at home. Our Family Support Partners (FSP's) recently received a call from a mom who was concerned about how she could support her out-of-the-house adult son who struggles with anxiety and depression. She explained that she wanted him to know she was always there to help him in any way he needed but also that she respects his new found freedom.
Below you'll find 5 ideas that you can use to help your adult child who is struggling. These ideas come directly from both parents who have children who don't live at home, and adult children who live on their own.
1. Keep Communication Open
Let your child know that even though they're living on their own, you're still there to support them and are willing to listen and talk about their mental health challenges, if they want. If you're not really sure how often they want to hear from you or rarely answer when you call, don't be afraid to ask. "Is it ok if we talk every Sunday so we can catch up on your week?" Some adult children talk to their parents all day long and some periodically check in. Try and get a good system down about how frequently you call or text your child. Ideally, when you can, you want to get them on the phone, or even better, a video call so that you can hear and see how they are actually doing.
That being said; if your child struggles with anxiety they may get anxious about always having to call you back. They may not feel up to talking. If they don’t answer your call, send them a quick text saying you love them and were just checking in. Send a clear message they can give you a call back whenever they are feeling up for it. This permission to not have to call you back right away could alleviate some of their anxiety. If your child is really struggling and doesn't have the energy to talk or even text, ask that they “like” your message if they've seen it (this feature is only available on iphones) and to give you a call back when they can.
Talk about your own mental health when you do talk to them. Tell them what's been making you anxious, tell them how you are feeling really burnt out from work these days. Even if you never had these conversations with your child before; start now. Your relationship changes once your child becomes an adult and now could be a good time to start incorporating some more honest communication. By doing this you are showing them that not only do you struggle too, but you talk about it, and you are okay with talking about a topic that to many feels awkward.
Remember, not every check in needs to be serious! Send them a funny video, meme, or post that you came across that made you think of them. If you got in the car and their favorite song came on the radio, send them a silly video of you singing it. This kind of light-hearted communication could put a smile on your child’s face for a moment and also reassure them that you are there, and you are always thinking about them.
2. Be in contact with other people in their lives
Make sure that you also have an open communication pathway with the other important people in your child’s life. Whether it is their significant other, friends, other parent, or neighbor - make sure they have your number and you have theirs. You do not want to overstep any of your child’s boundaries but you do want to ensure that the people in your child’s life know that if they have a concern about your child’s mental health you are the person they should turn to. Many of these people may physically see your child more than you and may be a little quicker to notice that they are struggling.
This idea came to us when a dad who called one of our Family Support Partners was alerted about how his daughter was struggling with her mental health by her best friend. He said while it was a scary text to receive, he is so grateful that he has always had a nice relationship with his daughters friends and that they felt comfortable coming to him.
3. Adjust your expectations - but do NOT pull away
When someone is struggling with their mental health it can be very draining. If your child is struggling with theirs they may feel like they don't have a whole lot of left over energy at the end of the day. If you notice, or suspect that your child is struggling, try and ease up on some of the obligations that you and other loved ones may put on them. Whether it is a night out to celebrate their cousin's new job, or a neighborhood party that they usually would attend, let your child know that if it would help, you can cover for them.
Earlier this year we released our tip sheet on Understanding Your Child’s Social Battery. If you have an introverted child this tip sheet can help you get some insight on how socializing makes them feel, and how you can be a part of making socializing a much more enjoyable thing for them in general.
Some adult children just want to make sure their loved ones are happy and not mad at them so they may not speak up if they don’t feel up to attending something. We know that we want our children at all of our family and loved ones' events and parties but if they're struggling, the social obligation can do them more harm than good. If your child struggles with anxiety they may start to stress out about whether or not people are mad at them for not attending something. Reassure them as many times as they need you to that everyone was totally fine with them not being able to make it and they all are sending their love.
Obviously do not exclude your child from different social events. Continue to invite them (while giving them that out) because the last thing they need to see is a social media post of an event that they now feel upset about not getting invited to. This could have the opposite effect that you are intending for and make them feel isolated. If you coparent with someone or there is another prominent adult in your child’s life make sure you are both on the same page about adjusting your expectations as your child prioritizes their mental health.
4. Try and help them get some easy to cook meals
Like many of the tips above; this one is all about your child not having the energy to do certain things. Many individuals who struggle with their mental health do not have the energy to cook a meal, let alone cook a nutritious one. Try and brainstorm some ways that, even if you aren’t in the same home, you can ensure that your child is eating, and getting as many nutrients as possible from what they are eating.
This tip depends greatly on how close you live to your child. If you do live close enough to drop food off, consider making a big batch of whatever their favorite meal is and freezing it in small portions. This way they can throw all of the individual meals in their freezer and when they are feeling low energy they can still get a home cooked meal by simply throwing it in the microwave. Mental health and physical health are very intertwined so if you can sneak veggies or fruit into these frozen meals that is even better (we saw a mom on Tik Tok who blended up some veggies and threw them in her tomato sauce when making her family spaghetti and meatballs and loved this idea!).
If you do not live close to your child, consider sending them food via Instacart, getting groceries delivered or getting them a gift card for a meal subscription service. If you do send groceries keep in mind that your child will most likely not be up for whipping up gourmet meals. Get them quick, easy, and when possible nutritious options that can be very “grab and go” for them. Some great ideas are granola bars, frozen meals that only require a couple of steps, and shelf stable things like boxed mac and cheese or soup. If you cannot financially afford to send your child groceries all the time, ask them if they would be interested in you just placing the order for them. Taking this task off their to do list could be enough to ease some of their anxiety.
5. Encourage them/help them to set up autopay
Another way that you can help take a bunch of stress off of their plates is to encourage them, or help them set up autopay for as many bills as possible. Whether it’s their internet, electric, car insurance, or credit card bill; ask them if they need any help setting up autopay. If they accept your help, sit down with them and make a list of every bill they need to pay a month and then get to work seeing if autopay can be set up.
This way if they have a day where they just can’t get out of bed they don’t have to stress about whether or not it’s the first of the month and they need to make sure rent is paid. An anxious person oftentimes constantly goes over a to-do list in their head about everything they have to do, and everything they feel like they have been dropping the ball on and taking billing schedules off their list could be huge for them. If you do help your child set up this system, remind them that they need to keep enough money in their checking account to avoid any overdraft fees.