What to Say When Your Grown Children Hurt Your Feelings

Family with teenage girl (12-14) holding champagne, portrait

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Assess the Situation

Sometimes, a parent is partially responsible for negative interaction by treating the adult child as a child, according to Dr. Randy W. Green, a licensed New York psychologist on his website, Creative Solutions. Take an objective look at the interaction to determine if you offered unsolicited advice or if you failed to treat your grown child as an adult. Your child’s anger could arise from something you said or did. If so, apologize for overstepping your place in your adult child’s life. Ask what you need to do to make amends. Tell your adult child that you will make a greater effort to remember that they are a grown up and that they can make decisions on their own. Setting these healthy boundaries for a parent-child relationship is essential when you have adult kids to ensure a healthy relationship and well-being of both parties.

Everyone can make mistakes, but your parenting style has to change to your adult child when they become a young adult and can make their own decisions and have their own feelings. You can still be a good parent, but validating your child is essential to avoid disrespectful behavior.

Respond With Love

Treat your child, and all family members, in a loving, respectful manner, just as you would want to be treated. Get to the root of the interaction and find out what precipitated the exchange that hurt you from your adult daughter or adult son. Listen to your child and ask questions until you understand how your child feels and your child’s behavior. Take responsibility for your actions and words, but do not base your relationship with your child on guilt and fear, advises Green. In your response, set an example for your adult child. You can tell your child that he hurt your feelings, stating your side of the problem after you have heard his. This is a healthy way to communicate with your loved ones – by trying to understand everyone’s point of view and to avoid saying hurtful things.

Establish Boundaries

If your child is out of line, set boundaries based on the kind of relationship you would like to establish, suggests Dr. Kathy McCoy in “When Adult Children Become Strangers.” Let your child know that you are not her resident babysitter or her banker. If she’s angry because you didn’t drop everything to bail her out, send her money or some other action that you feel isn’t in her best interest, explain why you made the choice you did. Let her know that you love her but you will not communicate with her when she hurts you, is disrespectful toward you or makes unreasonable demands of you. Parents of adult children have to do this in order to take control of their own lives apart from their kids and avoid estrangement, having a disrespectful grown child, or having to walk on eggshells around each other.


Check your relationship for enmeshment, suggests Jane Isay. A person who is enmeshed with another -- in which the boundaries are not firm between two people -- will take more offense when the other person rejects her advice. Tell your child you won’t allow him to make choices for you and that you will refrain from making choices for him. Express your wish to have a relationship in which you two interact as adults who care and respect each other. Expressing this wish can prevent harsh words and hurt feelings between you.