Transitional Independent Living


Let Your Young Adult Child Experience Consequences

As adults, we know there are consequences to our actions. If we don’t pay bills, we lose electricity and water; are charged fees that make it even harder to make the payment, and even lose our vehicles or homes. If we don’t complete our assignments or show up to work late, we lose our jobs and the ability to pay bills and do fun activities.

Does your young adult understand this concept, though? As children, did he or she experience enough consequences to be aware of them?

Many parents fall into the cycle of “helping” their children avoid discomfort or failure. They complete homework assignments for their child, or talk teachers into giving extensions on the due dates of those assignments. They decide it’s okay to let their children continue to play with toys they had previously told them to pick up or go out with friends when they’d rather the child stay home.

Unfortunately, these actions often carry over into adulthood. A now-adult child is incapable of managing his or her funds, so lives at home or constantly borrows money. He or she expects the parent to step in with college professors, who are less receptive to the interference, the same they did with school teachers. Or, even worse, their managers at work.

There are times when you need to step in to protect your child. But there are many more situations in which you shouldn’t. Children need to experience consequences in order to build up an “emotional callous,” as James Lehman calls it, which are coping skills for dealing with negative emotions.

Protecting Your Child

Our instinct as parents is to protect our child. However, after a while, what you consider to be protection may actually be teaching your child that he or she doesn’t have to deal with the outcomes of their behaviors, that instead you will fix it for them. So, in the future, your young adult will continue to come to you for solutions rather than change their own behaviors.

After all, when we experience an outcome we don’t like, we tend to figure out how we can avoid that result in the future. When we experience something we do like, we repeat the behavior to see if we get the same result.

When your child needs money because he or she spent what they had on frivolous things and you give it to them with no questions, he or she will be more likely to continue to spend their money that way. If instead you offer the money but tell them it’s a loan that has to be paid back with interest, or refuse to help and let them experience the discomfort of late fees and collection calls, they may make better use of their budget.

Using Logical Consequences

Experiencing a consequence that occurs because of an action your young adult made is considered a natural consequence. Logical consequences, defined by Rose Allen and Linda Boelter as results that are “imposed by the parent or caregiver,” are still useful to you with your young adult, however.

Examples of logical consequences may be refusing to allow your young adult to borrow your car for a fun trip with friends after losing his or her job, or pay for college after receiving failing grades when he or she refused to study.

A Little Stress is a Good Thing

The stress that comes with a feeling of failure or discomfort can actually be good for you. There is even some research showing a correlation between stress and an improved immune system. It’s also good for your heart and memory.

It’s only when you experience too much stress that it becomes a problem. Of course you want to support your young adult during situations that may result in too much stress, such as the loss of a job (that they were working hard to keep) or a bad break-up in a relationship, and you should.

Three Questions to Ask

Lehman suggests you ask your young adult these three questions to help him or her start to realize how their behavior affected the outcome of the situation. Once they work through it, they’ll be more likely to make a different choice in the future. The questions are:

  • What part did you play in this?
  • What are you going to do differently next time?
  • What did you learn from this?

It’s Not Too Late

Your young adult can build up this emotional callous, too. You just need to remind yourself to give your child the opportunity to continue growing emotionally. After all, you won’t always be there to help him or her.


James Lehman – Why You Should Let Your Child Fail: The Benefits of Natural Consequences –

ULifeLine – How Do You Tell the Difference Between Good Stress and Bad? –

Rose Allen and Linda Boelter – Using Natural and Logical Consequences –

Find out if your young adult is working the emotional system

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