I work with a lot of young adults (14-23) and have always dealt with their ambivalence and fears about becoming adults. Of course, for these young people this is what they are dealing with at this stage of life, so not surprisingly it is constantly in their thoughts.
Younger children are not yet at the point of facing an imminent transition to adulthood, but I am increasingly struck by this being a source of anxiety even for young children.
It seems to me that children deal with the construct of “adulthood” much the same as adults deal with the concept of mortality. We may go years without consciously thinking about death, but the knowledge that our lives are finite is in the background of many (most?) decisions we make (eg -if I don’t go to Egypt this year will I ever get another chance, or if I spend that money now will I have enough for retirement?).
Probably from as young as 3 or 4 children have an understanding that they will not always be children. It might still be 10 or more years away, but they know adulthood is inevitably lurking. What are the implications for parenting? To seize opportunities to empower our children and help them develop a strong sense of self-efficacy. Almost whenever we are unsure about whether or not our child can do something, it’s an opportunity to empower them by believing they can do it.
Children define their abilities and limitations based on their parents. We wouldn’t ask a 6 month old to get dressed by themselves, but might ask a 3 year old, and part of that message for the 3 year old is that we believe they have the ability to get dressed (or we wouldn’t have asked them to do it). In that context having the expectation that your child can do something is more important than whether they actually do it.
Self-efficacy is defined as “an individual’s belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals.” If we can teach children that they can believe in their abilities and that they can handle whatever comes there way, it will go a long way towards reducing anxiety.