How to Talk to Your Grown Child with Respect

Have you ever had to tackle a tough conversation with your adult child? You know the kind where you know you’re going to disagree? Often we like to avoid these situations when we don’t know how to talk to our grown child about a difficult topic. We’d rather hide than confront. We’re afraid we’ll be disappointed when we hear our child’s perspective. What if there were an easier way to handle these tense moments? When we lean into respect, we’ll find peace.


A Hard Conversation Made Easier with Respect

My husband and I spent a weekend in Minnesota for a family reunion then returned to our son’s home for an overnight stay. It was nearing the end of our visit as we gathered at our son’s dining room table. His younger sister joined us. These two are basically the male and female version of each other. They have a deep bond and see the world similarly. They’re deep thinkers with a creative bent and value uniqueness. 

We had successfully avoided the “elephant in the room” all weekend – the overturning of Roe v Wade. Social media and the news were abuzz. It was time to talk about it with our grown kids. It was time for a hard conversation. 

With warmth and compassion we leaned in and listened. We didn’t judge, condemn, or belittle their opinion. It was a civil conversation as we each took turns sharing our hearts on the matter. We have polar opposite perspectives, but we were civil. When we were done, we embraced and honored each other. I could sense God’s delight in the moment.

We will all face tough conversations with our adult children where we’ll want to argue, belittle or be angry about their perspective, but that gets us nowhere fast! When we argue, we become  defensive quickly. When we practice respect, we won’t experience fissures in our relationships. 

Respect is about the way we treat people. We need tenderness, humility, and gracious good manners.  We need to be focused, interested, and calm. It sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it?  In the gospel of Mathew, we are given this charge:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Mathew 7:12 NLT)

In our relationships, we are called to treat others the way we want to be treated.

Parents of adult children sometimes miss this step of respect, because we’ve forgotten our role has shifted with our kids. We’ve spent decades barking orders and discipling our children on what they should believe about church, culture, and God. This is no longer our place once our children reach adulthood. Our adult children are responsible for their own choices before God, and we’re responsible to be Christ-like when we interact with them.


How to talk to your grown child with respect (and why it matters)


1.Establish trust through listening. 

The surest way to communicate respect is to be an effective listener. Remember: listening is not agreeing. It’s merely a way to honor the one you’re with. Listening to your child’s perspective will show them that you care. You are free to share your own opinion too, but always do it with tenderness and no judgment.

2. We are called to love.

When you practice respect, it communicates to your child that his feelings and perspective matters. On your own, you may not be able to do this, especially when you disagree. Christ’s  love compels you to give deference even when you don’t agree with what your child says. Love is the glue that keeps families together.   

3. Value relationship over competition.

Often when you disagree with someone, you want to win them over or win the argument. Every conversation doesn’t have to have a winner and loser. Instead, when you value the relationship over competition, you can proceed with compassion and tenderness. Everyone wins when respect is part of the conversation. 

In order to have a strong relationship with your adult child, each interaction must be graced with respect. When you struggle with how to talk to your grown child, remember that tenderness, good manners, and humility can usher in peace. As you establish trust through listening well, love unconditionally, and value relationships over competition, you’ll experience more harmony with your adult child. 

We are invited to act like Jesus.

Want more articles by Pamela Henkelman and parenting adult children? Read When Your Adult Child Rejects Their Faith or 3 Keys to a Healthy Communication with Your Adult Child
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