Are you having to deal with being yelled at or called names by your grown child? If so, it's time to examine the reasons why and come up with a plan to deal with their rude behavior. Here are some reasons why your grown child may be treating you disrespectfully, and 15 ways to handle your adult child's rude behavior.
I belong to several groups for empty nest parents on Facebook and I see so many posts in these groups where moms are saying things like this:
“My adult daughter doesn’t listen to a thing I say. When I talk she rolls her eyes.”
“My grown son is always angry with me and constantly tells me how I’ve ruined his life.”
“My adult children only reach out when they need something from me. And then they’re ungrateful for my help.”
“She constantly criticizes me. Nothing I do is good enough.”
“He treats me like I’m the stupidest person who ever lived.”
“They blame me for everything that’s wrong in their life.”
“My birthday was yesterday. Nobody called, nobody texted, nobody acknowledged it at all.”
And somehow the stories always end like this:
“I would have never shown my parents such disrespect.”
Are you nodding your head? If any of this sounds familiar, you have my sympathy. It’s so painful when our children don’t show us the respect we feel we deserve. We want to think that our relationship is different, but it often isn’t.
The funny thing is: I only seem to hear about these issues in places like Facebook groups, where you don’t know the people in real life. I rarely hear a real life acquaintance talk about issues they’re having with their adult children.
It seems like disrespectful behavior is a problem we’re only comfortable confessing to semi-anonymous strangers. So, why is this? I think it’s because we’re embarrassed about the disrespect we’re being shown.
It often feels like everyone else tells stories of how their grown daughter is their best friend. Or how often their grown son drops by to visit. We don’t want to be the one person who is struggling.
But you are not alone.
So, let’s talk about the problem together. Why are our adult children so disrespectful? How should we respond? Is there anything that can help improve the situation?
What Causes Grown Kids to Behave Disrespectfully?
Here are a few reasons why your child may be behaving poorly:
Soiling the Nest. As your child prepares to become more independent, you should expect some tumultuous behavior. This is often referred to as “soiling the nest.” It’s nature’s way of making sure that the inevitable separation that occurs when your child grows up is easier for both you and your child.
If you’ve ever allowed yourself a sigh of relief when your child leaves after a period of particularly bad behavior, you can be sure you’re not the only parent to do so.
Poor Communication Skills. Your child may be struggling with emotions they don’t know how to express. Anger and resentment are especially common. They don’t know how to express their feelings in a healthy way, so they lash out at you.
Misplaced Anger. Let’s imagine your child is dealing with a toxic work environment and they are becoming more and more frustrated. If they erupt at work, they’ll lose their job.
But do you know who will always love them no matter what? Mom. And so they yell at you for some perceived slight because you’re a safe spot to express their feelings.
Reaching for Independence. Another reason why our children might be acting out is because they are reaching for independence. They want to be considered an adult, so they demand to be treated like one. The problem is that in the process of trying to become independent, they often forget how to behave respectfully.
Lack of Independence. This sounds like it’s the same thing as reaching for independence, but it’s actually very different. If your child feels smothered or powerless to make their own choices as they grow older, they can become resentful and act out. As kids reach young adulthood, they need opportunities to make their own choices and decisions.
Weak Boundaries. Do you have problems saying no? Are you frequently taken advantage of? Unfortunately, our kids may see that and learn this is how to get what they want from you. Curbing disrespect means establishing clear and firm boundaries.
Immaturity. Even a grown child can be immature for several reasons. If your adult child experienced trauma while growing up, they can remain stuck at an earlier developmental stage. If your child is immature, they may not have the empathy necessary to understand how their actions affect you.
Mental Health Issues or Addiction. Some adult children may have mental health issues or substance abuse problems that cause volatile behavior. If you suspect your grown child is suffering from either issue, reach out to a trained therapist for advice.
Now that we know some of the reasons our adult children might be acting out, let’s talk about how to deal with disrespectful behavior.
How to Respond to Disrespectful Grown Children
You want to show your child that you love them, but their behavior is not acceptable.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings About Your Grown Kid’s Behavior
The first step in dealing with a disrespectful adult child or young adult is acknowledging that this is a difficult situation. It’s normal to feel upset, frustrated, and embarrassed. It’s normal to feel very angry.
Once your children reach young adulthood, your relationship needs to evolve from one in which the parent is in command to one that is between two equal partners.
Note that I said “between two equal partners.” That means each person treats the other with respect. You do not have to accept disrespectful behavior any more than your grown child should accept it from you.
2. Don’t Ignore the Issue
One of the worst things you can do is to ignore the disrespectful behavior your child is exhibiting. By doing this, you are sending the message that it’s okay for them to behave this way. It also allows them to continue mistreating you with no consequences.
3. Talk with Your Adult Child About the Disrespectful Behavior
If you’ve been accepting disrespect for a long time, your child sees their behavior as normal and expected. The first step in changing the situation is to have a conversation with your child about what’s going on.
Here’s a template you can follow to discuss the issue:
- Describe the situation. “We seem to have fallen into a pattern where you respond to the things I say to you with cruel insults and slamming doors.”
- Talk about your feelings. “When that happens, I feel hurt and a little frightened.”
- Express your needs. “I don’t want this kind of relationship with my child. I need for you to speak to me with respect and violent behavior is not acceptable in this house.”
- Set boundaries. You might say something like, “If you speak disrespectfully again, or slam doors in anger as a way of showing your displeasure at what I’ve said, then I’ll have to ask you to leave the house.”
- Dangle a carrot. “If I see that you’re treating me with respect and working to manage your emotions, I’ll feel more comfortable letting you use my car to visit your friends.”
- Ask for Feedback. “What are your thoughts about how we can improve our relationship?”
This will be a difficult conversation so it will help to practice before you have the real thing. It may seem silly or feel awkward at first, but practicing will give you the confidence to move forward with having the talk.
4. Give Up the Power Struggle
If your adult child continues treating you with disrespect, you’ll need to respond.
However, yelling back at your child or attempting to punish your grown child because you feel hurt will only drive the two of you further apart. Instead, you want to respond calmly and rationally.
When we respond calmly and without anger (even when our emotions are running high), we show that disrespect does not solve problems.
Here’s a technique I learned from the book How to Talk so Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens will Talk.
Even if your grown child is well past the teen years, it’s still a useful technique for dealing with disrespectful behaviors. (In fact, I recommend reading the entire book because it has so much helpful advice.)
- State Your Feelings. “What you just said hurt me very much.”
- State Your Expectations. “Even if you’re angry, I need you to talk to me without name calling or yelling.”
- Offer a Choice. “We can talk now if you can discuss the issue calmly or we can try to discuss this later when we’ve both had a chance to cool down.”
- Show How to Make Amends. “I’d like you to apologize for what you just said.”
If your child continues to speak to you disrespectfully (and they probably will the first few times you try this), then it’s time to:
- Take Action. “I won’t talk to you when you keep calling me names. I’m leaving the room now.”
5. Consequences, not Punishment
Your child is an adult now. You can’t punish them like you did when they were younger. Instead, consequences are the best way to get them to stop their disrespectful behavior.
If you had a friend who constantly insulted you and put you down, would you want to be around them? I doubt it. So, if your adult kid constantly insults you and belittles you, a logical consequence could be that you don’t allow them in your home.
That may seem harsh, but it’s important to protect yourself. If you have a toxic adult child in your life, they will only make you feel worse about yourself and put your mental health at risk if you allow them to continue mistreating you. You can always tell them that they are welcome to return if they can treat your with respect.
6. Remain Consistent
When you stop accepting your grown child’s rude behavior, you can expect resistance.
After all, your child’s behavior towards you has been working for them by helping get their own way. You might find that the tantrums, name calling and other forms of abuse may even escalate.
You’ll need to remain consistent in your behavior and continue to enforce your own boundaries even if it seems like it’s not working at first so your child learns that the rules are changing and abuse is no longer tolerated.
7. Talk with a Family Therapist
Remaining consistent with healthy boundaries is so hard. After all, this is your child who you love so much. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns.
Talking with a therapist who specializes in family issues can be very helpful in following through with your plans. In fact, I would say it’s vital.
Start by visiting the therapist on your own. That way you can describe your experience and get advice and support tailored to your situation. At some point, you and your therapist may want to ask your child to join you.
Your child is an adult so they may not want to see a therapist with you. But having your grown kid talk with a therapist, even if it’s without you, can lead to valuable insights.
If the disrespectful behavior continues to escalate and becomes a danger to either yourself or your child, it’s time to involve those who can help keep you and your child safe. A qualified family therapist can advise you on your best options.
8. Try to Understand Your Adult Child’s Perspective
This is especially important if you think your child might be acting out because of something like poor communication skills or previous trauma. This can be very difficult to do because it may require you to accept responsibility for some of the issues that are occuring in your family.
If it feels safe, ask your child to explain to you why they are so angry with you and listen without trying to justify or explain your point of view. This won’t be easy and it will definitely be uncomfortable. You don’t have to accept the truth of everything your child says, but it’s important to understand how they feel and to validate their right to feel that way, even if you disagree.
As your child talks, use the principles of active listening. Remain attentive. Take notes if you have to. That can be very helpful because we tend to forget things when we are flooded with emotion. Repeat back what you hear to let your child know you are listening and to clarify what they mean.
You don’t have to agree with anything they say. You might think they are completely wrong, that their perspective is skewed, and they don’t have the full story. That’s ok. At this point, it’s just important that you understand how they feel.
A word of warning: a few conversations about your child’s grievances can be very useful. But don’t let your entire relationship become one where you just listen to your child’s harsh criticism towards you. That’s another form of abuse.
Also, it’s ok if what you’re hearing is too hard and you need to take a break. Just be honest. “Look, I’m flooded with emotion right now and I can’t listen to anything more right now. I need to take a break to process what you’re saying so I can really understand.”
9. Acknowledge Your Mistakes and Apologize, if Appropriate
All parents make mistakes. No one parents perfectly. And it’s worth considering that for much of your relationship, your grown child was an actual child who may be remembering past events from a child’s point of view.
If you feel remorse or sorrow about past mistakes, it’s appropriate to give your child a sincere apology. That doesn’t mean you need to accept responsibility for everything that’s happened. You’re not taking ownership of any of your child’s poor behavior when you apologize. It just means you recognize where things went wrong and want to take steps to make it right.
Don’t go on a big apology tour in the hopes that apologizing will fix all your problems. It won’t.
If you’ve been very critical of your child in the past, it may be difficult for them to understand and accept that you’re apologizing now. Just be honest about what you’re sorry for and take responsibility for those things.
10. Don’t Accept Abuse Because of Your Past Mistakes
You shouldn’t accept rude behavior because you made mistakes as a parent. You are not obligated to continue accepting abuse because you’re sorry about the past.
Remain consistent with your boundaries and expectations. You can still set limits and call out your child’s inappropriate behavior, even if you’ve apologized for how things went wrong in the past.
11. Enabling Entitlement Hurts Everyone Involved
As parents, we want to make life easier for our kids, no matter how old they are. And it’s fine to help your kids out from time to time, even after they become adults.
But when your adult child starts demanding your help or threatening to leave home if you don’t give them what they want, that’s a sign of entitlement.
And entitlement is very damaging for both parties involved. The child feels like they can do whatever they want and get away with it because Mom or Dad will always bail them out. They don’t learn the skills they need to be a successful adult.
The parent feels drained, resentful, and frustrated. They may start to feel unloved and unappreciated. That can lead to a vicious cycle of the parent enabling their child’s entitlement even more, out of guilt or shame.
If you’ve already enabled your adult child’s bad behavior for years, it will be difficult to end this pattern now. But if you’re not careful, they could very easily become lifelong dependents.
12. Involve Other Family Members
If you’re in an abusive relationship with your grown child, it’s likely that other family members are also struggling to cope with the abuse. They probably want to help but don’t know what to do either.
When your family is on the same page about the respect you expect from everyone, it’s much easier to call out abuse and hold your disrespectful child accountable for their words and actions.
So try getting other close relatives together – especially your co-parent, if you have one – to discuss how they can support you in setting boundaries with your child.
It can sometimes be difficult to get everyone to agree on the same plan especially if you and your child’s other parent have very different parenting styles. If that’s the case, reaching out to a family therapist can be helpful.
13. Recognize Your Child is an Adult
Your child is an adult now and responsible for making their own decisions and determining what’s best for them. Even if you disagree with their decisions, those decisions are theirs to make.
If you criticize your grown child’s decisions, they’ll start withholding information and avoiding certain topics with you. They might start avoiding you altogether.
Only offer advice if your child asks for your opinion. And even then, be prepared to respect whatever decision they make, even if they don’t take your advice.
14. Acknowledge Your Child’s Success – and Effort
You’re asking your grown child to change a long-standing pattern of behavior. Change can be hard, especially for an adult child who isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the changes you’re now requiring.
So, be sure to notice and acknowledge any attempt to change, especially at first. Try saying something like, “I’m really happy that you are expressing your feelings by sharing the reasons you disagree with me rather than resorting to name calling. That’s a real sign of maturity.”
I’m a big fan of the “just because” surprise treat. If you see your child is really trying, even if they often fail, reward them with a small treat or special favor they’ll enjoy. That way, they’ll see that behaving well benefits them.
15. Focus on Self-Care
As I mentioned earlier, your child is being required to change their current behavior. But you also need to change your own behavior in order to change your adult child’s behavior towards you. The changes you need to make all require a lot of patience, energy, and effort.
So make sure you take care of yourself so you have the energy for the changes that are needed. Give yourself a little self-care every day by spending some time each day doing something that brings you joy – whether it’s reading a book, taking a walk in nature, or spending time with friends and family.
When you take care of yourself, you’ll have the strength to deal with whatever challenging behavior your adult child throws your way.
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What advice do you have for parents with disrespectful grown children? Share it in the comments!