How to Deal with a Disrespectful Grown Child, According to 5 Experts

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Disciplining a child is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. As children grow, the manner of discipline changes accordingly. Thus, one approach may no longer be effective enough to discipline them.

It gets more complicated when a parent has to deal with a disrespectful grown child. At this point, they already have their own reasoning and are expected to be responsible enough for their actions.

If you find yourself in the same situation, here are some tips from 5 experts that can help you in dealing with a disrespectful grown child:

Shirley Baldwin

Shirley Baldwin

Entrepreneur | Certified Transformational Life Coach | Author, Get What
You Want from Your Man

When a young child is disrespectful, you can send them to their room or give them an extra chore. But when your child is an adult, it’s a lot harder to deal with. What do you do?

Here are some ways to successfully navigate dealing with a disrespectful adult child:

Make an agreement

Set clear boundaries. Let your child know that you will not tolerate any disrespect from him/her. If that happens, this will happen. Have a conversation around the boundaries you have set. Talk about what can be said and what can’t, what you will and won’t tolerate as far as how they treat you.

Then if the disrespect starts, do what you said you would do. You are just fulfilling your end of the agreement. It’s simple. Just like with a younger child, they will already know what the consequences are, so they shouldn’t be surprised when you deliver.

Be a creator instead of a reactor

If you are a reactor, you will meet your child where they are at, which could only heighten the situation. If you are a creator, you can create whatever you want with the situation.

Slow down, think about what you want to create with your child. Remember, you are still an example to them. If they continue to be disrespectful and you quit tolerating it, you’re still creating.

Validate what they feel, whether it’s right or wrong in your eyes

Validation can defuse a lot of arguments. i.e., You can say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “That must be really hard.”

You can only control who you are in any relationship

Make sure that who you are being isn’t warranting any type of a disrespectful response. Often we don’t realize that we are part of the problem.

You can ask a question like, “what is it like being my child” allow his/her perspective to be spoken. You may just learn something about them that you didn’t know.

Jacob Brown

Jacob Brown
Registered Associate Marriage & Family Therapist

Dealing with an aggressive or disrespectful grown child can be very upsetting and confusing. And in your confusion, you may respond to them like they were still a child rather than an adult.

It’s important to remember that you’d know what to do if a friend suddenly began treating you the way your grown child is treating you.

You’d let them know that you found the behavior offensive, set a boundary, and if they continued to be disrespectful, you’d cut off communication.

Related: How to Stop Enabling Your Grown Child

But parents are very reluctant to take the same action when their children misbehave. Typically, they bite their tongue out of a fear that their child will:

  • Erupt in anger
  • Blame the parent for being unfair and hurtful
  • Break off connection with the parent
  • All three

Treat them the same way you would a friend

In my experience, the only solution is to treat the child the same as you would a friend. Explain how you feel, set a boundary, break off contact if they can’t respect you. This moves the argument from a parent-child conflict to an adult-adult interaction.

Remember, if a break does occur, it doesn’t have to be forever.

If they apologize, forgive them and try again. If they don’t apologize, forgive them try again after a few weeks. Your goal isn’t to punish them, but to keep reminding them that won’t let them treat you badly.

Claudia Luiz

Claudia Luiz
Psychoanalyst | Author, The Making of a Psychoanalyst

Psychoanalysts always look for the hidden meaning of things because our unconscious is always lurking. So we always try to get underneath a behavior. What could be underneath the disrespect of a parent? Unspoken anger? Unspoken hurt? Unspoken shame?

When you hit on the right hypothesis about what’s underneath the disrespect, and the family, together, can create space for the right story, then the unjust disrespect becomes replaced with mutual understanding.

When you get words flowing, and unspoken things get spoken, it deepens the relationship.

Any unresolved feelings that take the shape of negativity against the parent dissolve naturally when the family lands on the right story together.

The journey for a family to create space for unspoken truths and unresolved emotions that always lurk in the unconscious (and manifest as irrational negativity) is hard. It’s painful to know the pain of what hadn’t worked.

But no pain, no gain. It’s worth the shame, regret, and despair of knowing that we are all vulnerable, imperfect beings than it is to try to control behavior when all that does is create the pretense that everything is fine.

Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell
Nationally Recognized Expert in Clinical Psychology | Author, But It’s Your Family

Sadly, there are many toxic adult children, and they need the same type of boundaries that we would set on young, immature children. Because toxic adult children are bolder and can be more influential in exacting, there abuses, some parents will have to cut ties at least for some time with their toxic adult children to get the message across.

It is tough love at this place because they should have a maturity that they don’t have and if they have an entitlement that is not working against discipline then sometimes those relationships need to be severed until they can treat people better.

Related: 20+ Signs of Toxic Family Relationships and What You Could Do About Them

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

 Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Certified Imago Therapist,
The Marriage Restoration Project

It is hard being disrespected, especially if it is your grown child. Remember that their disrespect is often more about them than about you, so try not to take it personally.

Do your best to get curious

Your child is probably in real pain. Don’t be confrontational. You can choose the type of boundaries you decide to establish and whether their disrespect is too heinous even to attempt to interact.

Engage with your child

Do this if you feel that you can move beyond. Show them love, and also tell them how hurtful their actions are, this may be a more effective solution to achieving long-term goals of a relationship.