Giving Your Adult Child a Mental Health Holiday Check-In
Parents of adult children with mental health issues face the challenge of providing support without overstepping boundaries or being too overbearing. The holidays can trigger all kinds of mental health symptoms. If there is ever a time to step up your support of a struggling adult child, this is it. Regular check-ins help ensure they are taking the proper steps to manage mental health during this time.
The holidays can be a challenging time for many people. It’s not always easy to admit because it’s supposed to be such a joyful time of year. If you have an adult child with mental illness, an addiction, or a history of mental health challenges, you must stay on top of their symptoms during this time of year.
As the parent of an adult child, you may worry about overstepping your bounds. It’s possible to help your child with holiday check-ins without being intrusive. Simple steps and shows of support can make a world of difference.
Why Holiday Check-Ins Are So Important
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 64% of people with mental illness find that this time of year worsens their symptoms. Nearly a quarter of people report that the holidays make their conditions a lot worse than usual.
This effect is not limited to people with diagnosed mental illness. Many people get the ‘holiday blues’ and other mental health symptoms. The stress, expectations, disappointments, loneliness, family conflicts, and other factors can be challenging for anyone. If your adult child deals with a mental illness or is in recovery, all of this multiplies their difficulties.
Check-ins with your child may not fix all their problems, but it’s a meaningful way to stay on top of it. It’s not always easy for the individual struggling to see the situation. They may slide seriously into depression, for instance, or even have suicidal thoughts before they realize how much their mental health has taken a downward turn.
It is often easier for a loved one to see the signs that someone is having a hard time or worsening symptoms. This is why it’s so important to check in once in a while. You can point out what you see and take steps to help your child get back into therapy, keep up with medications, or engage in necessary self-care.
What Does a Check-In Look Like?
It depends on you, your child, and your family. If your adult child is sensitive about this topic, approach it alone. If they feel comfortable with the whole family, bring others into the conversation.
You may want to have a quick chat on the phone or invite your child over to talk. A brisk walk can be a great way to have this talk while also getting some mood-boosting exercise. You know your child best, so approach the situation in the way that’s best suited to them.
Here are some things you can do and ways to check in throughout the holidays to support your adult child who may be having a difficult time.
Ask Questions and Listen
Too often, loved ones fail to understand what someone in this position is experiencing. They walk on eggshells or avoid discussing the situation. Mental health is still stigmatized in many social circles. It’s understandable, but better to face this head-on.
The more you understand your child’s experience during the holidays, the more you can be compassionate and helpful. Ask direct questions, like ‘how are you feeling today?’ or ‘what do you need to feel better right now?’
It can feel rude to be so direct, but don’t let these traditional taboos stop you from helping your adult child. Start a conversation and let your child guide it. Be a good listener and find out what they need. Then, you can offer the support you’re able and willing to provide.
Acknowledge and Accept Their Feelings
It’s perfectly understandable that you have the urge to protect them and fix their problems as a parent. You’re worried about them and may instinctively go into a state of denial that they feel that bad or may be suicidal or facing a real risk of relapse.
Instead of denying their feelings or stepping in to fix the situation, acknowledge how they feel. Make sure your child knows that it’s ok to feel bad. Emotions are not bad, but responses to them can be. Allow your child to feel depressed, sad, anxious, or alone. Acknowledge that you can’t fix it but that you are there for support and any help you can provide.
Be Willing to Change Holiday Plans
If you check in with your adult child and learn they may not be able to handle that big Christmas dinner, consider adjusting plans. Don’t expect them to attend a party if they’re not up to it. It can be difficult to be flexible this time of year and face the disappointment of missed events or dashed expectations.
Be willing to let go of this to support your child. Consider alternative plans like a dinner only for immediate family or a night at home for New Year’s Eve instead of a party.
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Engage in Healthy Habits Together
When mental health slides during the holidays, it’s easy to let healthy habits slide too. Your adult child may be tempted to drink too much. They could lose the will to get to the gym regularly. Good physical health habits support good mental health. A balanced diet, minimal drinking, regular exercise, and adequate sleep all support mental wellness.
When checking in with your child this holiday season, check on their physical health too. Offer to do things together, like taking a fitness class or making healthy dinners. You can use these opportunities to have meaningful conversations and simply to observe them and see how they’re coping.
The holiday season seems to get longer every year. Reach out more than just once or twice to make sure your child is on track, but don’t go overboard. Strive for a balance. Your child may get annoyed with daily check-ins. On the other hand, if they’re struggling, once a day may be necessary. Just make sure you talk to them regularly throughout the season, especially if you don’t live near each other.
Provide Mental Health Resources
Parent-child relationships can be complicated. Give them the option to contact anyone who can help. As much as you want to be there for your adult child, they may feel more comfortable chatting to someone else about mental health challenges.
There are plenty of resources, like hotlines and support groups, that can help your child. It may be that all they need is a neutral person to listen. Check out lists like these, which offer apps, websites, and phone numbers your child can use if they need to reach out.
Help Them Get Professional Support
The love of a parent isn’t always enough. Your adult child may need professional mental health care. Of course, because they are adults, you can’t force anything. What you can do is encourage and remove roadblocks to getting care.
Let your child know that there is no shame in this and that you’re not disappointed. Offer to help in any way you can. For instance, you can suggest therapy or a stay in a residential facility. Maybe you can help financially, drive them to therapy appointments, or call them for medication reminders.
Holiday check-ins may boost your adult child’s mood and reduce loneliness. They can also be life-saving depending on your child’s severity of symptoms. Connection is essential at all times, but during the holidays, it is more important than ever. Reach out regularly, even if you’re not sure what to say or how to help. That simple show of support may be enough.