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How to Say No to Adult Children Without Hard Feelings

by Kelly Morris, studioD

Many people find it hard to say no and it may be especially hard for parents to say no to their adult children. Whether you really can’t give your children what they’re asking for or you just don’t want to, you might feel guilty about saying no. You might also worry about hurting their feelings or creating conflict in your relationship. Sometimes parents simply have to say no, though. As the Mayo Clinic website points out, it’s just not healthy to say yes all the time.

Say no simply and directly. If your adult children ask for something, whether it’s babysitting services, money, or something else, and you need to say no, say it clearly. Don’t hint around that you’re really busy or have had a lot of expenses of your own lately and hope they withdraw the request. Just say, “No, I can’t help you with that.”

Provide a brief explanation of why you must say no if you want to, but don’t go on and on trying to justify your decision. If you give a reason, be honest. Don’t make up an excuse. Remember, “I don’t want to” is a valid reason to say no.

Avoid criticizing your children when you say no. Perhaps they ask you to babysit all the time and you think they should stay home with their kids more. Perhaps they just bought an expensive new television and now they want to borrow money to pay the rent and you think they need to budget their money better. This isn’t the time to offer them advice on those issues, though.

Allow your adult children to express their feelings when you say no. Acknowledge their feelings by saying something like, “I understand you’re disappointed and I’m sorry I can’t help this time.” Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel they way they do.

Repeat as necessary. Especially if your children are used to you saying yes to everything, they might find it hard to accept a negative response. Stay calm and repeat, “I can’t do it” as many times as it takes.


  • No matter how you say no, your adult children may get mad or feel hurt. You can’t control their feelings. By saying no in a respectful, assertive way, you minimize the chance that they will have hard feelings, but it might happen anyway, no matter what you do.

About the Author

Kelly Morris has been making a living as a writer since 2004. She attended the College of Mount St. Joseph with a major in social work and minor in women's studies. Her work has appeared in a number of print publications including Caregivers Home Companion, Midwifery Today and Guide.

Photo Credits

  • Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images