Developmental Arrest Issues Regarding Adult Children in Parental Homes

Parents sometimes call me to discuss an adult child who lives in the parental home and how best to motivate his/her leaving the nest. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson is worth a read.

Erikson speaks of eight developmental stages through which any individual moves from infancy to (we hope) old age. Erikson says each stage involves a transition from one set of dependencies and responsibilities to another and the transition can be made in a way that reflects health and builds upon it or in a way that does not.

A person at age two, who has been provided food when hungry, drink when thirsty, and comfort when frightened will move from the first stage to the second stage with a sense that the world is a safe place and with a capacity for trust. Another person who has been nourished and comforted inconsistently will enter Stage Two with “trust issues” and may seek therapy services later in life for help with the appropriate trusting of others.

Psychotherapists are often called upon to facilitate resolution of developmental arrest in an individual who may (or may not) meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis that would support a need for psychotherapy. Of course, there may be a psychiatric diagnosis (e.g., depression) that exists in addition to matters of developmental arrest.

Erikson was particularly interested in the adolescent-to-adult stage (i.e., Stage Five) and wrote more about this stage than any other. This is the stage of identity versus role confusion. For the individual stuck in adolescence, therapists often focus upon the enabling of dependency by some combination of well-intentioned but misguided parents, parental figures, and welfare programs.

A good starting point in promotion of independence is identifying subsidies that make the “nest” too comfortable for the adult child (e.g., gas money, an allowance, cellular phone service, car payments, and Internet access). In addition, parents sometimes subscribe to irrational beliefs that impede the development of the adult child’s independence (e.g., — A good parent would pay the cell bill — especially if it is a family plan).

A psychologist can explore these issues more deeply, and it may be worth a referral.

The following link provides an overview regarding the stage theory of Erik Erikson.


— Andrew J. Billups


About ajb

I am clinical psychologist and academic coach with more than twenty years of psychotherapy, academic coaching, and training experience. I operate from my base camp in the Chesapeake Bay Country of Tidewater Virginia. I have a long-term interest in the relationship among public policy, education, mental health, poverty, and change language.
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