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How to improve communication with parents: Advice from psychologists

How to improve communication with parents: Advice from psychologists How to build a relationship with parents (illustration: Freepik)

The relationships between parents and their adult children can be incredibly complex—and wonderful, if worked on intentionally. However, often old communication habits hinder the establishment of healthy communication.

Psychology Today reports on ways to improve difficult relationships with parents.

Speak to each other like adults

After decades of communicating with each other, parents and adult children risk falling into communication patterns that are not appropriate for their ages. Adult children may speak and act as if they are younger, especially during arguments.

On the other hand, parents may speak to adult children as if they were speaking to a child, making inappropriate demands or giving unwanted advice.

If this happens, it's important for both parents and children to stop the argument, take a step back, and try to communicate according to their respective ages.

Take responsibility for relationships

Both parents and adult children are responsible for shaping, maintaining, and managing relationships. These efforts involve initiating contact, seeking compromises, engaging in discussions, and finding mutually enjoyable ways of communicating.

So when a child or parent feels that they should simply wait for the other to make efforts in building and sustaining relationships, resentment may arise, or existing conflicts may worsen.

Learn to resolve conflicts constructively

Unhealthy conflict styles from childhood can persist throughout life. Silent treatment, passive aggression, yelling matches, ignoring problems, and feelings of guilt are just some of the destructive patterns that negatively impact relationships.

Part of taking responsibility for relationships is each party acknowledging their role and attempting to change their reaction. However, improvement won't happen if both sides don't make joint efforts to understand why familiar conflicts continue to recur and don't commit to learning new ways to be together.

Respect each other's boundaries

Personal boundaries exist for everyone, so both parents and children may feel upset when one of them violates these boundaries. Therefore, parents should decide what level of access adult children have to information and what level of support they are willing to provide.

Adult children should also delineate the level of privacy and involvement they desire and accept from parents, especially in areas such as career, relationships, lifestyle, and finances. If parents and children seek to improve their relationships, which may be quite complex, they should together assess how well they respect each other's boundaries.

Grant each other's requests

Relationships are strengthened when both parties accept feedback on how they feel in communication.

For instance, parents may ask their child to call earlier in the evening, express disappointment about using the phone during personal conversations, or indicate that they would like their own lives to be asked about during conversations.

On the other hand, an adult child may tell their parents which conversations are comfortable and which are uncomfortable, or request a change in tone during conversations.

Accepting feedback is a cornerstone of healthy relationships and involves taking responsibility for one's role in causing pain or annoyance to another person.