How to Talk WITH -- Not AT -- Your Adult Children

caucasian man and adult son playing chess and laughing
The more often you talk to your adult kids about everyday things, the easier it will be to talk about difficult things when the time comes.

When your children are young, there are all kinds of resources at your fingertips to help you communicate with them. Countless magazines and Web sites are devoted, at least in part, to the art of talking to your kids -- how to teach them responsibility, how to help them express their feelings, how to get them to eat vegetables. You also might spend a lot of time on the playground swapping war stories with other young parents. Same goes for parents of teenagers: There's certainly no lack of information (and commiseration) out there for trying to deal with surly adolescents. But around the time your kids fly the coop, all this advice -- all this communication about communication -- suddenly disappears.

So what's the parent of an adult child to do? Your child might not be physically with you anymore, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't stay connected. And even though your little kid is now an adult with sophisticated communication skills, relationships can still be difficult to navigate. Everyone can struggle with figuring out this new dynamic. How do you strike a balance between being a friend and a mentor to your child? How do you give advice to an adult without coming off like a dictator?


The key for parents is to talk WITH your children -- not at them. Read on for some suggestions on how to initiate and maintain healthy communication with your adult kids.

Tips for Communicating with Adult Children

It used to be so easy. You'd tell or show your children how to act or what to do, and they'd do it. (True, that's a total oversimplification, but you get the idea.) When your kids are off on their own, though, it's a whole new ballgame. You're not living with them anymore, so how do you know when they need you? This might sound strange, but everyday chitchat is the answer.

Depending on your parenting style (and your kids' personalities), you might talk to them every day, every few days, every week or every few weeks. But no matter how often this communication happens -- and whether it's in person, on the phone or over e-mail -- the crucial thing is to keep it up regularly. It shouldn't be a special occasion to have an honest conversation. If you're listening to and talking with your children, you might know something's wrong before they even tell you. And when you're communicating with them as equals, your advice won't seem overbearing or controlling.


Remember, too, that there will probably come a time when your roles reverse and your children are taking care of you, so keeping it open and friendly now will only make it better later. Don't be afraid to have those "big" conversations about money, illness, later-in-life care and, yes, death. Trust us -- doing it now will help you avoid a lot of problems and heartache.

Of course, there are going to be times when things aren't so easy and breezy. On the next page we'll talk about how to communicate with your adult kids in sticky situations.


Crisis Situations

Some things just aren't easy to talk about -- like when a child asks for a loan (or hasn't paid you back) or when you feel that your kid has made a huge mistake or bad decision. But don't let your groundwork go out the window when times get tough. If you've been laying a good foundation with your everyday conversations, you should be able to weather any situation, no matter how dire it may seem. Chances are you'll be able to see problems brewing, and you'll know when to jump in and when to back off.

Remember, this article is about talking WITH your adult kids, not AT them. It might take every ounce of your inner strength, but wait to dispense advice until you're asked. And please, whatever you do, avoid uttering phrases like "I told you so" and "Someday, you'll see things my way." You'll just put your child on the defensive, and the conversation will quickly turn south. And while you do need to say what's on your mind, even if it's difficult, be careful how you say it. Be firm but supportive; it's better to get things out in the open than to let them fester.


For more advice on parenting adult children, check out the links on the next page.

Talk With Adult Child FAQ

How do I communicate with my adult daughter?
The key for parents communicating with adult children is to talk WITH your children -- not at them. It's important to respect that your child is an adult now and to strike a balance between being a friend and a mentor to them.
How do I talk to my grown son?
It's important to talk to grown children with respect and recognize them as your equals. Talk WITH your children, not at them. Try to strike a balance between being a friend and a mentor.
How often do adults talk to their parents?
The frequency that grown children talk to their parents may vary depending on the parent's parenting style and the child's personality. It could range from every day, every few days, every week, or every few weeks.
How do you deal with a disrespectful grown daughter?
It's important to strike a balance between being a friend and a mentor to your child once they become an adult. Try to communicate with your child as equals so your advice doesn't come across as overbearing or controlling.
At what age should parents stop parenting?
There isn't a specific age when parents should stop parenting, but it's important to evolve your parenting style as your child grows. As your child becomes an adult, it's important to recognize them as your equal and to communicate with them this way to avoid coming across as overbearing or controlling.

Lots More Information

Related Articles
More Great Links

  • Abrahms, Sally. "Oh Brother! With Parents Aging, Squabbling Siblings Turn to Elder Mediation." AARP. Sept. 20, 2010. (May 19, 2011)
  • Chatzky, Jean. "Adapting to Your Adult Children." MSNBC. April 24, 2007. (May 16, 2011)
  • Hill, Judy. "'Don't Bite Your Tongue' Teaches Healthy Communication with Adult Children." Tampa Bay Tribune. Oct. 28, 2008. (May 16, 2011)
  • Schwartz, Becky Perez. "How to Strengthen Communication Between Adult Children & Parents." Examiner. Nov. 3, 2010. (May 16, 2011)