Parenting Adult Children: You Can’t Send Them to “Time Out” Anymore

August 2, 2006 4:20 pm Published by

The dynamics between parents and their kids changes as both get older — this is true when children move from toddlers to school-age to teens and beyond. It is especially true when they become adults.

Here are some new skills needed in these adult-adult relationships (from article, “The New Generation Gap” in the July edition of Worth).

To a great extent, the skills needed to parent adult offspring well are the same as the same as the skills needed for parenting young children as well. These skills, however, must be applied in new ways as children age, as a relationship shifts from that as a caregiver and child to that of two adults. This move to adult-to-adult interaction, within the context of an ongoing parental relationship, presents the most challenging dilemma for many families. We have identified specific tactics for smoothing this transition.

Establish healthy communication patterns

The rules of healthy communication are deceptively simple. For example, the primary rule–speak for yourself– seems as if it should be as natural as breathing. But many unhealthy variations abound. The second rule–listening to others–is likewise much more difficult to master than it appears. In many families, true, active listening is a rare commodity. There are other communication skills that are vital to building strong bonds: avoid criticizing, belittling or insulting others; remain in the present and jettison past offenses; and show respect for one another. They seem obvious, but many people find it all too difficult to follow these rules consistently.

Teach and learn appropriate assertiveness skills.

Assertiveness is the masterery of standing up for yourself and communicating your needs in a manner that minimizes the potential for offending the other person. The two most important components of assertiveness are 1) the well-crafted statement that offers several steps to address a recurrent problem, and 2) the practice of saying what you mean in the moment. Simply put, the ability to say “yes” if your response is yes, and “no” if your response is no. Assertiveness is a mainstay of healthy communication, but many adults struggle in applying these skills to their relationship with their parents. This is especially true when offspring fear reprisal from their parents, particularly the loss of financial support.

Actively build trust.

Trust is essential to any positive exchange between two people. In healthy relationships, building trust involves an ongoing process. The foundation of trust is the belief that the other person does not intend to harm you. Trust also requires acceptance, accountability and openness. In contrast, keeping secrets, denying accountability, acting irresponsibly, blaming others and attempting to exert control are patterns that damage trust and impair the building of healthy relationships.


Published by
August 2, 2006 4:20 pm

Leave a Reply