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It’s not uncommon for children to experience anxiety about growing up. After all, as parents we are their role models. They get to watch us make hard decisions and cope with the stresses of life whether we want them to or not.
We can shield them from it as best we can, but is hiding the facts of life really beneficial to them?
Just like childhood, adulthood has its advantages and disadvantages. Conveying a good balance between the good stuff and the not so great stuff about adulthood will help ease your child’s fear of growing up.
Here is quick synopsis of my most recent experience with one of my children struggling with anxiety about growing up.
“Mom, I’m scared of growing up.”
A while back, my (almost 13-yr-old) daughter and I were headed to return a movie we had rented. We have a pretty open relationship, and she knows she can talk to me about anything. (I strongly encourage it.)
So, she starts to tell me about a situation at school with a boy she is friends with. He likes her, but she’s conflicted about her feelings. Should she like him? Is it okay for her to like him?
We talk about it for a while. I explain the rights and wrongs and the fuzzy gray areas the best I can. But, I can tell she is still conflicted.
Things went quiet. Then, I heard the sniffles. She was crying.
I couldn’t figure out why she would be crying. It was just a boy, after all. Initially I thought “puberty mood swings.”
Through the tears, she finally confided, “I’m scared of growing up. I don’t want to leave you and Daddy and Caleb and Carter.”
Now, she has had puberty anxiety before (anxious about dealing with bodily changes). But, this was the first time I heard the fear in her voice. She was truly struggling with anxiety about growing up.
I did not see this one coming AT. ALL. I sure wish I would have been ready and equipped with all the need-to-know about children with anxiety about growing up.
Well, I am now. And since I’ve done all the research and had the experience, I want to help you better understand it, too.
Keep reading to discover some of the main fears children experience about becoming an adult and some things you can do to help your child navigate the anxiety.
The Fears Associated with Becoming an Adult
It isn’t all that hard to imagine why a child would have anxiety about growing up. Think about it…Think about all the things you dislike about being an adult. Remember all the tough decisions you’ve had to make and the responsibilities you despise?
Now, imagine a 10, 11 or 12-year-old kid trying to do these things, make these decisions. Do you see it now?
If adults have anxiety about adulthood, it is only natural that a child would. As children get older they have to acknowledge they will one day have to do these things and actually take care of themselves. This is when the fears of becoming an adult can set it. Some of these fears include:
Fear of Getting Old. This is one of the most common fears, even among adults. There are so many negative thoughts to process when thinking about growing old. The elderly have a certain stigma associated with them. You might think about dying or how old people are grumpy and irritable. And, you might think about losing your family or loved ones as you get older. When someone fears getting old, it’s because they are focusing on the end of life rather than the part where they get to live and create a beautiful future.
Who Will I Become? Kids are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. When you’re in Kindergarten, it’s fun to think of all the things you could be when you grow up. But, when you’re becoming a teenager and nearing adulthood, most people really have no clue what they want to be for the rest of their lives. It can become an overwhelming thought that lingers until it causes anxiety about growing up. Kids might even wonder “Will I be good enough?” (I still wonder this myself sometimes.)
Fear of Responsibility. As kids, all they really have to think about is the here and now. They don’t have to plan out meals, worry about how much things cost, or make sure everyone has clean clothes for the week. Most kids know their parents will provide for them. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Eventually, kids realize these things will one day be their responsibilities. They start to think about all the things they will have to sacrifice.
Separation From Parents. This is one of the things my daughter mentioned in our conversation about growing up. She didn’t want to leave the comforts of home. It’s because kids feel safe, secure and taken care of with their parents. The thought of losing that comfort is scary.
Fear of Being Alone. This can go hand-in-hand with being anxious about separation from parents. At a young age in school, kids begin to worry about whether or not they fit in. At home, they are comfortable with being themselves and don’t have this worry. Thinking about growing up and moving out on their own, brings on the worry of “will anyone like me or will I be lonely?”
Navigating the Anxiety About Growing Up
As parents, we want our children to be happy and healthy and grow into successful, self-sufficient adults. We don’t want the fear of adulthood to stand in the way of their personal growth and maturity. And we sure don’t want it to affect their mental health. These five things will help you ease your child into adulthood and relieve some of the anxiety associated with growing up.
5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Becoming an Adult
Be Reassuring. Sometimes we all want to hear “It’s all going to be okay.” Make sure to tell your child that when she expresses her fears. Give examples of your experiences where you have overcome obstacles and everything worked out.
Be Honest. Don’t hide the hard stuff, but DO take the time to give explanations. If we sugar coat everything, we will give our children false expectations. We don’t want them to be severely disappointed when they reach adulthood.
Be Positive. Tell your child about the perks of being an adult. Yes, there are a lot of responsibilities. But, there are just as many advantages of growing up. Speak to her about the exciting and fun times you’ve had as an adult.
Be Aware of Your Reactions. We are our children’s role models. If we want them to think of change in a positive way, we have to show them how to navigate change and make the most out of uncomfortable situations.
Slow Down. Take the time to listen to your child, and walk with her through every stage. I don’t mean literally hold her hand. I mean listen and pay attention to her ques. She will let you know when she’s ready to talk (even if it’s with her body language).
A Positive Ending
To tell you how our story ended… That day, I tried to ask as many questions that I could to better understand her fears and where they were coming from. I listened without judgement. And, I did my best to reassure her becoming an adult is not something you are just thrown into. You have years to go, I told her. And, each year will bring new experiences that will build upon each other to create a foundation for you to become an adult.
I explained that the fears and anxiety she was experiencing are normal, and everyone makes mistakes. That’s just a part of life. You learn from them, and move on with that experience to make more informed choices next time.
Our story really hasn’t ended. I know, as she continues to grow older, she will have new fears, concerns and anxiety. But, I will be there to help her navigate those fears of growing up for as long as I can.
Have you experienced a similar situation with your child? Let’s swap stories in the comments below.