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Control These 3 Emotions to Better Help Your Adult Child

Managing your emotions to get past overreacting and enabling

As a coach for parents of struggling adult children, I have seen that every situation is unique.That said, some honest self-reflection will be very helpful to you. It is crucial to know what thoughts, feelings, and actions will help versus backfire with your struggling adult child.

You clearly need to get past the emotions that leave you feeling reactive. You also want to stop making the same enabling mistakes over and over. When you feel stuck with your adult child it is best to follow a constructive plan versus problematic feelings.

Avoid These 3 Counterproductive Feelings With Your Adult Child

Letting these three feelings interfere with your interactions with your adult child will usually not turn out well:


Parents of adult children are often mired in fruitless (and usually irrational) feelings of guilt. Maybe you think, "If we had listened better and were more supportive, he wouldn't have turned out this way." But please keep in mind that human beings are shaped by a complex interplay of genetics and environmental factors. I have seen adult children thrive who were raised in distressed families and I have seen far too many adult children fail to launch who were raised in loving, privileged homes. Yes, you probably could have done some things better in your parenting efforts. But stop senselessly ripping yourself for things beyond your control. Then focus on a plan (versus feelings of guilt) about what you can actually do with understanding and love to help her or him---within reason. And remember---The only perfect people are in the cemetery!


Your struggling adult child likely feels struck, frustrated, helpless, and angry. It is unlikely that she or he lives every moment DELIBERATELY trying to make you feel miserable. It is on you to still fill your own positive emotion tank and find joy in your life. Sure, you may find yourself saying, "Why is our son doing this to us?" But when you go there, be empathetic (versus overly sympathetic) and this will help you manage your own feelings of resentment. And do things to keep yourself feeling good (e..g, take a walk, go to the gym, get together with friends, engage in a hobby, AND, reflect on the good things you've done as a parent).


If you live in a mindset where everything is about "success or failure" you will be making yourself unnecessarily miserable. Instead, see your adult child's life as a series of experiences. This gets you (and how you relate to your child) in more of growth mindset. Once you have a more positive, proactive way of viewing things, then you can have more constructive conversations with your adult child.

Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Child

Managing your feelings as described above allows you to work with your adult child to develop realistic, measurable goals. For example, if you do decide to let your daughter or son live with you for a while, you can collaboratively agree that she or he: 1) Moderate or quit drinking; 2) get a job or enroll in an educational program at college or a technical school; and 3) find a place to live within a year.

Be supportive, proactive, and praise your adult child's gains and steps forward. Help your child anticipate upcoming responsibilities by saying, "I realize this may feel initially overwhelming so let's sit down together and calmly go over the costs for you when it is time for you to get your own place.

Next draw up a mutually helpful agreement. I encourage the word "agreement" over the word "contract." The former is more collaborative, while the later may sound more distancing and off- putting. Some sample sentences to include may be:

- "While you to live at home for this year, you'll feel a sense of accountability and accomplishment by paying for room and board, at ____ per month."

- "We will pay your car insurance for the next two years as long as you continue to pass your classes or remain employed.

- "We all agree not to bring up past setbacks, arguments, or say things that are hurtful."

In closing

Be understanding and flexible with your adult child, within reason. Not all goals may be reached. Sometimes unanticipated situations and circumstances may prevent them from being realized But do not accept deliberate disrespect or unwillingness to cooperate.

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to helping your adult child. But my coaching of parents of adult children over thirty years has repeatedly shown me that managing your counterproductive feelings and following collaboratively-based plans will go a long way toward reaching positive outcomes.

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