Handling Conflict With Your Adult Child

Reviewed Mar 20, 2017

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Summary

  • Intense emotions can impede conflict resolution.
  • Be willing to express what you are feeling and listen well.
  • Learn steps to resolve conflict.

Since Shirley broke her hip and is too feeble to do many things, her son David has taken charge of her household tasks. Her mind is still sharp as a tack, however, and she complains that David treats her like a child, “Things were better when I was the parent.”

Nancy moved in with her parents, Margaret and Lloyd, five years ago after leaving an abusive husband. Now, she is still somewhat financially and emotionally dependent on her parents. “We had planned to retire, sell the house and travel, but we need to be here for Nancy,” says Lloyd with a hint of resentment.

Like Shirley, Margaret, and Lloyd, many parents feel that complex issues and rocky family relations make conflict resolution unattainable. Others think that resolving simple misunderstandings is not worth the effort. Working together to manage and resolve conflict (both big and small issues) is possible, resulting in improved communication and a better, more enjoyable relationship between you and your adult child.

How emotions can impede conflict resolution

Intense emotions can impede conflict resolution—especially between parent and grown child. Keep these barriers in mind:

  • When you are hurt or feel badly treated, you may do or say things that suggest your child is selfish, inadequate, or unfair. Shirley did just this. She was hostile and bitter toward David, making him feel guilty.
  • Many parents assume blame for their child’s problems or shortcomings. Margaret and Lloyd feel guilty for supporting Nancy’s marriage for so many years. Realize, however, that as adults, your children are free to enter into relationships and make decisions for which they are accountable.
  • Do not assume that your children know you so well that communicating with each other is no longer necessary. Shirley needs to figure out that David cannot read her mind and feelings.
  • Avoid defining your children by their negative habits and tendencies. Margaret and Lloyd see Nancy as a needy and insecure woman. Instead, they should see her as a strong woman with the potential for overcoming tremendous obstacles.
  • How you treated each other in the past can affect your desire to work together to solve a problem. Abandon your role as “parent” and create a “partnership” atmosphere in which you can respect each other and work through the problem rationally.

Resolving conflict step-by-step

  • Cool off. Emotions can keep you from identifying the real issue.
  • Identify the problem. Often, small incidents are symptoms of a larger, central issue.
  • Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Did you say or do something that could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted?
  • Communicate. Make sure your child has your full attention and understands your meaning. Speaking from the heart will help your child to empathize. Be aware of your body movement, voice inflection, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues.
  • Listen. Do not interrupt or make assumptions. Avoid being critical or defensive. Listen for what is behind the words—like feelings and ideas.
  • Be willing to apologize and forgive.
  • Solve the problem. Be flexible to work out a compromise that meets both you and your child’s personal and relationship needs. 
By Christine P. Martin
Source: Resolving Conflict: How to Turn Conflict Into Cooperation by Wendy Grant. Element, 1997; Resolving Conflict with Others and Within Yourself by Gini Graham Scott, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 1990; Handling Verbal Confrontation: Take the Fear Out of Facing Others by Robert V. Gerald, PhD. Oughten House Foundation, 1999; The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen: Getting Through to Family, Friends and Business Associates by Paul W. Swets. Simon & Schuster, 1983; The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution by Dudley Weeks, PhD. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992; Lifeskills: Eight Simple Ways to Build Stronger Relationship, Communicate More Clearly and Improve Your Health by Virginia Williams, PhD, and Redford Williams, MD. Times Books, 1997; Coping with Your Grown Children by Edwin L. Klingelhofer, PhD. Humana Press, 1989.

Summary

  • Intense emotions can impede conflict resolution.
  • Be willing to express what you are feeling and listen well.
  • Learn steps to resolve conflict.

Since Shirley broke her hip and is too feeble to do many things, her son David has taken charge of her household tasks. Her mind is still sharp as a tack, however, and she complains that David treats her like a child, “Things were better when I was the parent.”

Nancy moved in with her parents, Margaret and Lloyd, five years ago after leaving an abusive husband. Now, she is still somewhat financially and emotionally dependent on her parents. “We had planned to retire, sell the house and travel, but we need to be here for Nancy,” says Lloyd with a hint of resentment.

Like Shirley, Margaret, and Lloyd, many parents feel that complex issues and rocky family relations make conflict resolution unattainable. Others think that resolving simple misunderstandings is not worth the effort. Working together to manage and resolve conflict (both big and small issues) is possible, resulting in improved communication and a better, more enjoyable relationship between you and your adult child.

How emotions can impede conflict resolution

Intense emotions can impede conflict resolution—especially between parent and grown child. Keep these barriers in mind:

  • When you are hurt or feel badly treated, you may do or say things that suggest your child is selfish, inadequate, or unfair. Shirley did just this. She was hostile and bitter toward David, making him feel guilty.
  • Many parents assume blame for their child’s problems or shortcomings. Margaret and Lloyd feel guilty for supporting Nancy’s marriage for so many years. Realize, however, that as adults, your children are free to enter into relationships and make decisions for which they are accountable.
  • Do not assume that your children know you so well that communicating with each other is no longer necessary. Shirley needs to figure out that David cannot read her mind and feelings.
  • Avoid defining your children by their negative habits and tendencies. Margaret and Lloyd see Nancy as a needy and insecure woman. Instead, they should see her as a strong woman with the potential for overcoming tremendous obstacles.
  • How you treated each other in the past can affect your desire to work together to solve a problem. Abandon your role as “parent” and create a “partnership” atmosphere in which you can respect each other and work through the problem rationally.

Resolving conflict step-by-step

  • Cool off. Emotions can keep you from identifying the real issue.
  • Identify the problem. Often, small incidents are symptoms of a larger, central issue.
  • Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Did you say or do something that could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted?
  • Communicate. Make sure your child has your full attention and understands your meaning. Speaking from the heart will help your child to empathize. Be aware of your body movement, voice inflection, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues.
  • Listen. Do not interrupt or make assumptions. Avoid being critical or defensive. Listen for what is behind the words—like feelings and ideas.
  • Be willing to apologize and forgive.
  • Solve the problem. Be flexible to work out a compromise that meets both you and your child’s personal and relationship needs. 
By Christine P. Martin
Source: Resolving Conflict: How to Turn Conflict Into Cooperation by Wendy Grant. Element, 1997; Resolving Conflict with Others and Within Yourself by Gini Graham Scott, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 1990; Handling Verbal Confrontation: Take the Fear Out of Facing Others by Robert V. Gerald, PhD. Oughten House Foundation, 1999; The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen: Getting Through to Family, Friends and Business Associates by Paul W. Swets. Simon & Schuster, 1983; The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution by Dudley Weeks, PhD. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992; Lifeskills: Eight Simple Ways to Build Stronger Relationship, Communicate More Clearly and Improve Your Health by Virginia Williams, PhD, and Redford Williams, MD. Times Books, 1997; Coping with Your Grown Children by Edwin L. Klingelhofer, PhD. Humana Press, 1989.

Summary

  • Intense emotions can impede conflict resolution.
  • Be willing to express what you are feeling and listen well.
  • Learn steps to resolve conflict.

Since Shirley broke her hip and is too feeble to do many things, her son David has taken charge of her household tasks. Her mind is still sharp as a tack, however, and she complains that David treats her like a child, “Things were better when I was the parent.”

Nancy moved in with her parents, Margaret and Lloyd, five years ago after leaving an abusive husband. Now, she is still somewhat financially and emotionally dependent on her parents. “We had planned to retire, sell the house and travel, but we need to be here for Nancy,” says Lloyd with a hint of resentment.

Like Shirley, Margaret, and Lloyd, many parents feel that complex issues and rocky family relations make conflict resolution unattainable. Others think that resolving simple misunderstandings is not worth the effort. Working together to manage and resolve conflict (both big and small issues) is possible, resulting in improved communication and a better, more enjoyable relationship between you and your adult child.

How emotions can impede conflict resolution

Intense emotions can impede conflict resolution—especially between parent and grown child. Keep these barriers in mind:

  • When you are hurt or feel badly treated, you may do or say things that suggest your child is selfish, inadequate, or unfair. Shirley did just this. She was hostile and bitter toward David, making him feel guilty.
  • Many parents assume blame for their child’s problems or shortcomings. Margaret and Lloyd feel guilty for supporting Nancy’s marriage for so many years. Realize, however, that as adults, your children are free to enter into relationships and make decisions for which they are accountable.
  • Do not assume that your children know you so well that communicating with each other is no longer necessary. Shirley needs to figure out that David cannot read her mind and feelings.
  • Avoid defining your children by their negative habits and tendencies. Margaret and Lloyd see Nancy as a needy and insecure woman. Instead, they should see her as a strong woman with the potential for overcoming tremendous obstacles.
  • How you treated each other in the past can affect your desire to work together to solve a problem. Abandon your role as “parent” and create a “partnership” atmosphere in which you can respect each other and work through the problem rationally.

Resolving conflict step-by-step

  • Cool off. Emotions can keep you from identifying the real issue.
  • Identify the problem. Often, small incidents are symptoms of a larger, central issue.
  • Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Did you say or do something that could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted?
  • Communicate. Make sure your child has your full attention and understands your meaning. Speaking from the heart will help your child to empathize. Be aware of your body movement, voice inflection, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues.
  • Listen. Do not interrupt or make assumptions. Avoid being critical or defensive. Listen for what is behind the words—like feelings and ideas.
  • Be willing to apologize and forgive.
  • Solve the problem. Be flexible to work out a compromise that meets both you and your child’s personal and relationship needs. 
By Christine P. Martin
Source: Resolving Conflict: How to Turn Conflict Into Cooperation by Wendy Grant. Element, 1997; Resolving Conflict with Others and Within Yourself by Gini Graham Scott, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 1990; Handling Verbal Confrontation: Take the Fear Out of Facing Others by Robert V. Gerald, PhD. Oughten House Foundation, 1999; The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen: Getting Through to Family, Friends and Business Associates by Paul W. Swets. Simon & Schuster, 1983; The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution by Dudley Weeks, PhD. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992; Lifeskills: Eight Simple Ways to Build Stronger Relationship, Communicate More Clearly and Improve Your Health by Virginia Williams, PhD, and Redford Williams, MD. Times Books, 1997; Coping with Your Grown Children by Edwin L. Klingelhofer, PhD. Humana Press, 1989.

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