You have prepared your child to navigate the swirling waters of life with the help of out-of-home treatment and long-term family involvement. You have followed all the steps to better outcomes – parental involvement in treatment and at-home after-care that includes the structure of daily routines.
You recognize that healing from the trauma is a long-term process that never really ends, yet here goes your boy-man or girl-woman, off to college.
This is a moment fraught with danger for most parents, but particularly for those whose children have required treatment. What will your child do without the daily routines that were institutionalized at home? What will your child do without the support system of parents, family and longtime friends? Will they revert to old, destructive habits?
How do we ensure, what I call, a successful launch? Here are my recommendations in preparing your teen to leave home:
- Remain accessible.
Call, text or visit periodically to let them know you’re still thinking about them. I’m not advocating that you become a helicopter parent, hovering over them constantly. Just make sure they know you’re there when they need you, if even just to listen.
- Focus on relationship.
Invite your child – now a young adult – to family events, holidays and celebrations to make clear that they are still an integral part of the family even if they aren’t physically there as much. Talk to them about their life without prying. Make it clear that you’re interested in them.
- Avoid the temptation to enable, fix or rescue.
Living independently means learning to become independent. You must give your child room to fail and grow. Teach your child how to care for herself rather than taking care of things for her. (This has its limits, of course. In disaster situations you are still her parent.)
Related to this, don’t allow your child to blame you for their issues. Part of learning to become independent is taking responsibility for your own mistakes. Give them room to make their own decisions and be prepared to deal with the consequences.
- Always be ready to provide support, encouragement and treatment.
The inevitable challenges of being on their own can overwhelm even the most well-adjusted teens. Encourage your child, let them know you love and support them, and express confidence in them. Always make them feel that you are their #1 fan.
At the same time, if they run into trouble, always be ready to provide any therapy and medication they may need. Allowing them to become independent doesn’t mean leaving them on an island to suffer.
It may be a struggle, but following these guidelines will allow your child the room to grow while offering a safety net if life spins out of control. Have confidence in your own work over the previous months and years to prepare them for this transition.