As children mature, they often outgrow the urge or desire to be disrespectful to their parents for childlike and trivial reasons. However, there are still individuals who continue these behaviors towards caregivers, even as grown adults. When that happens, many parents are left confused and frustrated over how to respond to their grown child. Luckily, there are steps they can take to correct and stop enabling these behaviors.
Possible Reasons for Disrespectful Behavior in Adult Children
Opinions about what is considered disrespect from adult children vary depending on one’s culture, values, generation, and specific family dynamic. Still, it is generally understood that persistent disrespect from any person is challenging to deal with. However, there are many potential causes of these behaviors that a parent should be aware of.
Possible reasons for disrespectful behavior in adult children include:
- Dysfunctional family structure: Growing up in a dysfunctional family environment often results in children developing unhealthy ways of interacting with others. These behaviors can be learned from any caregivers, including biological parents, in foster homes, and in group homes.
- Trauma history: A history of trauma, particularly from one’s family of origin, may make a person more likely to act disrespectfully. Trauma may influence how a person behaves towards others, particularly those who have had a hand in their negative experience.
- Parental choices: Making the choice not to correct disrespectful behavior during childhood can sometimes result in behaviors continuing into adulthood.
- Personal mental health concerns: Someone’s mental health can affect their behavior towards others, including their parents, especially if the symptoms of their mental illness are not treated or supported.
- Substance use: Substance misuse, or a possible substance use disorder, may negatively influence how a person interacts with others.
- Peer influence: Peer pressure can sometimes influence a person to act in ways that they would not otherwise.
- Life stressors: When one goes through difficult transitions, such as moving to a different region or country, having their first child, or other big events, sometimes their behavior may be negatively influenced. This is especially so if they do not have the tools or coping skills needed to manage their stress.
12 Ways to Deal With a Disrespectful Grown Child
Responding to disrespectful behavior from adults is different than how one would handle it from children. It is generally accepted that adults should know how to act and respond to others in polite and appropriate ways, unlike children who may still be learning how to do so. Regardless, parents and caregivers should be aware of these behaviors and make conscious efforts to address them.
Here are 12 ways to respond to a disrespectful grown child:
1. Take a Deep Breath Before Responding
It can be natural for you to want to respond to disrespect with the same tone as your grown child, but this will not help the situation. Taking a breath will allow you to regain composure rather than respond with anger.
2. Remain Respectful
Although it can feel difficult at the moment, remaining respectful with your adult child is essential. Even though their behavior is not acceptable, modeling healthy communication is crucial in order to maintain your relationship. Positive parenting interactions are associated with positive adjustment of youth, which can continue into adult relationships.1
3. Set Realistic Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is important when dealing with disrespectful adult children, as it sets the precedent of what to expect for your child. This includes determining what behaviors are and are not acceptable. Be sure to communicate and enforce these boundaries with your grown child.
4. Acknowledge Your Mistakes
Parenting is difficult, and you will inevitably make some mistakes. However, a simple acknowledgement of these missteps can go a long way, because this offers your grown child validation and support. Sometimes receiving this from parents, especially for those who experienced any physical or emotional abuse, childhood emotional neglect, or other traumas, can be especially beneficial and healing for your child.
5. Be Open to Listening & Empathizing
Just as being validating and supportive can help your adult child feel heard, being open to listening and empathizing with them will have a similar effect. Everyone wants to be seen and understood, especially by parents.
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6. Focus on the Present
It can be easy to become upset about disrespect, especially if it is recurring. However, try to focus on the present moment and the particular situation at hand. Remembering past conversations and actions will only increase your anger or frustration, and is also unfair to your child.
7. Examine Your Parenting Style
Although it is important to focus on the present, if the disrespect has become a pattern from your adult child, then it might be worth examining how your own actions are contributing to it. Are you being passive-aggressive towards your child? Or, do you speak to them in belittling or demeaning ways? Re-evaluating your parenting style might be beneficial in order to understand how your choices may be resulting in certain behaviors in your child.
8. Set Realistic Expectations
Expectations should be clear regarding how an adult child should engage with their parents or other adults. However, these should be realistic and sensibly achieved. For example, it is unrealistic to expect an adult child to never disagree with you, as they are entitled to their own opinions. Instead, you can communicate how they should convey a difference of opinion, such as no insults, no raised voices, and no demeaning language.
9. Be a United Front
If you have a partner who is present or active in your child’s life, it is important for both of you to be on the same page about how you respond to negative behavior. This will help decrease any chances of triangulation or manipulation. Additionally, conflicts between partners–especially deep seated issues–often contribute to adult child disrespect towards one or both parents. Some parents may even expect their adult child to play referee or pick favorites. Avoiding these rifts is beneficial.
10. Know Your Value
Remind yourself that you are doing your best and are trying as hard as you can with the tools you have available. Parenting is not easy, and sometimes parents do not get enough credit for what they do and the sacrifices they make. Remembering this in times of stress can help you remain calm and collected when addressing an adult child’s disrespect.
11. Be Consistent
Remaining consistent is essential. Studies show that consistency in parenting is associated with positive development in children, as they feel more secure in knowing what to expect from parents.2 These consistencies help limit unnecessary anxiety or unstable feelings which may be contributing to disrespect.2
12. Examine if It Is a Cry for Help
Sometimes, adult children will lash out in anger or desperation due to stressors in their life. This is especially likely if the behavior is new after they used to get along respectfully. If they feel out of control, they might need additional support from their family, outside resources, or even mental health treatment. Taking a look at the reasons behind your adult child’s behavior can help you determine if something significant is influencing it.
What to Do If Your Child Is Estranged
Sometimes an adult child may choose to estrange themselves from parents. This can happen for many different reasons, such as trauma or unresolved hurt or anger. If you are looking to mend the relationship with your child, start by acknowledging their feelings and position over the situation. What led to them seeking this separation? Showing that you are open to seeing things from their point of view will hopefully open the doors to a healing conversation.
How to Stop Enabling a Disrespectful Grown Child
Enabling disrespect from anyone will only exacerbate the behavior–the same goes for your adult child. When an adult child is acting out against you, there are some rules you can adopt to stop enabling their behavior. However, it is important to understand that behaviors often don’t change overnight. Addressing disrespect will take some time, but establishing certain rules can help facilitate positive changes.
Below are some rules to instill to stop enabling your disrespectful grown child’s behavior:
- No yelling or raised voices.
- The word “no” has to be respected.
- No coming into the house after X time.
- You will clean up after yourself in this house.
- You will not use certain words or language when we are together.
- No challenging or hostile behavior towards others in the family.
Can Therapy Help?
Therapy may be helpful for someone who is struggling to deal with their disrespectful grown child, as it offers a place to receive comfort, express your feelings, and learn tools for dealing with any uncomfortable or painful emotions. Family therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy can all be beneficial options. You can start your search for finding the right therapist by using an online therapist directory or asking a loved one for a referral to a specialist in family dynamics.
Most caregivers try their best to raise their children in healthy ways, but like all humans, they will inevitably make mistakes. Receiving disrespect from an adult child can be frustrating and difficult to deal with, but there are ways you can address it in healthy ways. Seek support, set boundaries, and stop enabling the behavior. This can make all the difference in maintaining and building a positive relationship with your child.