Signs of Toxic Adult Children and The Best Ways to Deal with Them

With minimal effort, they can make other people unhappy with their behavior.

What’s more annoying than children who are unruly? I would say adults who behave like children exhibit negative traits that ruin people’s lives; they have this tendency. What is the source of this behavior? 

It seems that those adults received too little or did not receive enough attention during their childhood; some might even say they received too much attention. They are emotionally trapped between 5 and 7; although they are clever, they can also be skilled and manipulative, to name a few characteristics. It’s not that I blame parents in any way, but most times, the dysfunction is caused by them.

Being unable to get along with your child can ruin your day, no matter if they’re just 6 or an adult, but sometimes disputes with adult children can feel like more than a bad day or minor clash; sometimes, they’re the sign of a bigger issue with the dynamic between you and your child. How do you tell that a relationship with an adult child is a toxic one? And is there something you can do to improve it? We’ve developed a step-by-step guide for discovering the cause of your damaged relationship with your child and adult child and steps to take to resolve the problem and bring you peace.

What Could Be Causing Toxic Adult Children Disrespect?

U.S. Census data show that around 1/3 of the young adults (ages 18-34) reside in homes with parents, and this is about 24 million.

One-quarter of people who are in the 25-34 age group are not employed or in school, and this has created a new term for this phase of life called the transition to adulthood.

With many of the major marks of adulthood being delayed, tension and anxiety could be affecting the relationships in the household.

In some families, a completely different form of independence can be at stake; if an adult child takes care of an elderly parent, that change in roles could trigger many difficult feelings.

In a study from 2018 that researchers conducted examined the conflict between adult children and their older parents, finding that tensions grew when the two had different objectives.

What the parent desired (e.g., “I intend to drive to the grocery store on my own”) was sometimes in conflict with what the child of adulthood desired (“I’m driving and you’ll damage the vehicle”) and could cause emotional fireworks.

The more stubborn a parent is, the more hostile the child’s attitude could turn.

These two spectrum extremes do not cover all conflicts, and they don’t fully define hostile behavior.

Family dynamics, cultural perspectives, and personal problems could have a role to play. Here are some explanations that we know:

Home truth

However reluctant we might be to receive brutal criticisms coming from kids, no parent is perfect.

Your choices and personal traits may have led to problems for your children, regardless of whether you planned them or not. The anger directed at you (even when it is felt to be unjust) could be a result of events in the past or injuries.

Mental health

If you’re the parent of someone who has severe mental health issues, you’ve been undergoing a significant amount of stress regarding the health of your child. It could have caused a negative impact on your job performance.

A mental health issue, Coleman says, can impact:

  • How your child perceives you
  • The way your child communicates
  • How well your child can consistently manage their emotions
  • If your child can identify the root cause of disputes between.

Substance use

If your child is an adult with the habit of drinking or substance use disorder, the consequences in your relationship may be intense.

Consumption of drugs can trigger feelings, cause an increase in the ability to judge others, and hinder the capacity to speak with others in an appropriate and positive way.

Influence of other people

There’s a chance that the adult child’s anger towards you is being fuelled by other people in their lives, like a close friend, spouse, partner, or your significant other.

It’s possible that your ex-spouse or former partner has changed their perception of you.

“Current research indicates that children who are affected by the syndrome of parental alienation are more likely to perceive the parent who is not theirs as unloving or uncaring. Thus, it is more straightforward to construct a narrative that the parent you are separating from is unloving and unworthy of respect,” Coleman explained.

A history of abuse

If your spouse spoke to you or your children in an emotionally abusive way, your child may take the same liberties with you.

For instance, researchers have discovered that people who were exposed to abuse in their childhood are more likely to harm their parents later on in life.

Signs of Toxic Adult Children

They are so sinister that they chase other people away from their lives. In fact, some of these adult children are so easily recognizable that you can avoid them.

There are few who can conceal their bad habits for a long time, even after they’ve begun an intimate relationship; this is the worst aspect of all.

So, let’s examine the signs that can aid us in recognizing them since we can either avoid them or help them.

Physical health issues

Adults who have child-like feelings often suffer from serious health issues in their early adulthood or later. Although their savage behavior affects us, it can have an effect on them as well. It can be difficult to be an adult with adult responsibility yet react with child-like emotions; it’s not a good fit; the behavior of children, especially food choices, is disgusting.

The imbalance causes physical ailments due to unhealthy stress, poor nutrition, and a lack of physical activity. The stress that is put on the body leads to the body producing more cortisol levels, which affects the body’s proportion and weight reduction; the stress can affect the heart and nervous system.

If child-like emotions are rising in an adult, the stress could be overwhelming to both the child and the parent or the adult and friends.

Broken relationships

Of course, people who are toxic are unable to maintain a normal relationship with an individual; it’s certainly not a typical success story. Adult stress from a child’s perspective will see most aspects of the relationship in a biased way. When it comes to intimacy or communication, these toxic individuals will have little idea of how to make their partner happy.

Keep in mind that they’re thinking with emotions that are childish. This is especially true for communications, as these people tend to avoid discussing issues, instead throwing outrages or turning their back on their friends completely. They may apologize at times, but it’s not often, and even when it’s often, it’s because they are not sure how to go about things, or in general, manipulative and toxic.

Substance abuse

Adult children aren’t the only ones who engage in the habit of using substances, but a lot do. One of the reasons they resort to alcohol and drugs is that they saw their parents or a close family member engage in the same behavior, but this could be due to other causes, including family members from childhood or the desire to be rebellious.

If they’ve had any kind of abuse that led to the habit, they could be trapped in that moment, experiencing the agony and heartache caused by numerous traumatic past experiences.

Sometimes, parents neglect or abuse their children in a way that is not obvious. The abuse of substances is often attributed to the experiences that children have had.

Blaming and gaslighting

Adults who are toxic do not find themselves to blame in the majority of situations. If you’re struggling with someone who doesn’t take the blame or attempts to make you think and feel guilty, it could be because you are facing an adult kid. It’s true that children frequently aren’t accountable and tend to blame others.

The majority of us get beyond this stage and discover the positive aspects of life, but certain people are prone to afflicting their loved ones and parents with their savage actions. If caught in the point where something has affected them deeply or entangled in self-centeredness, an adult child won’t become a productive social being when it comes to interacting with other people.

You’ll see patterns and roles changing.

Adults and children can be influenced by each other; the toxic behavior of children can be passed on from parent to child, and the reverse is true. If a child has grown to become an adult, then sometimes their children will grow into the same pattern of behavior as their parent, putting extra strain on their parent and grandparents.

On the other hand, children may be able to avoid these traits and eventually become the parents of their family. It is true that someone has to take responsibility as an adult; if the adults in the family fail to take care of this, the child may have to give up their childhood to be in charge. 

Enmeshment is a relationship structure between two or more persons with unclear personal boundaries. It is a characteristic of dysfunctional families and impacts relationships inside and outside the family. In the family, personal identity isn’t embraced or appreciated. Outside the family, people-pleasing compulsions can be crippling. Survivors of enmeshed systems struggle to establish a sense of self and can be unable to assert themselves. 

Enmeshment Trauma Abuse: Signs, Causes, Effects and How to Heal

It’s a terrible circumstance; the kids often regard their grandparents as their parents in reality due to the security they provide.

How to Handle Toxic Adult Children

Within one study, researchers examined the parenting styles that led to the highest sense of well-being among young adults. They evaluated the three parenting styles studied:

  • Authoritarian
  • Authoritative
  • Permissive
  • Neglectful

The researchers found permissive and authoritative styles best promoted the adult child’s well-being during this life stage.

Researchers have stressed the importance of giving guidelines and suggestions instead of imposing rules or trying to establish control.

The experts also suggested parents look at the manner in which they offer instructions and guidance: focusing on kindness, affection, and encouragement is the ideal goal; limiting advice that is not sought out as low as possible is also an excellent method.

Evaluate your role in the dynamic.

The cause of some unhealthy parent-child relationships is entirely the fault of the child, but to have a healthy and harmonious relationship as possible, it’s essential to assess your part in the relationship. There is a chance that you could contribute to a negative relationship, even if you don’t know it or mean to. If you believe you could be at least partially responsible, accept responsibility for your actions by apologizing to your kid and requesting to talk about the issue with them in order to work towards healing.

Consider these questions regarding your actions, and be honest with yourself:

  • Do you ignore your child’s worries or block them out when they want to express their emotions?
  • Do you ever cross your child’s boundaries? Do you feel that you have the right to invade their privacy?
  • Have you set high goals for your child? Did they ever tell you that your expectations are high?
  • Did your child ever accuse you of being manipulative or overbearing?

If you replied “yes” to any of the above questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an unruly or abusive parent or that you’re the sole cause of the relationship, but it could suggest the issue is more complex than it first appeared.

Acknowledge the hurt you may have caused.

If your child believes (however inappropriate) that your parenting left something to be desired, you need to accept responsibility for any harm that you might have caused.

“As parents, we have to accept that we may have created problems for our children, even when we were making sacrifices and trying to do our absolute best,” Coleman says.

“You should have compassion for yourself for doing the best that you could, and you should try to have compassion for your child’s complaint that it wasn’t enough.”

If you admit the fact that you (knowingly or not) caused harm to or hurt your kid in the past, it opens an opportunity for more positive future relationship.

Parents who can acknowledge their children’s complaints without excessively defending themselves have a better chance of repairing their relationship.

Know what to permit and what to shun. 

“You’re so selfish.” “You’re a terrible parent.” “You’re a horrible person.” If you’re unable to spend a single moment with your adult children without them scolding or slamming you, your relationship could be very unhealthy.

If your child appears to see you as a “second-class citizen”, they may be suffering from narcissism.

Be aware that giving criticism or sharing negative thoughts regarding your parenting or yourself isn’t always considered “criticism.” Personal attacks, especially when they’re persistent, can indicate a toxic and possibly emotionally violent relationship.

  • If, for instance, your child says calmly, “Sometimes it feels like nothing I do is good enough for you, and it really hurts,” it could be a chance for you to talk about your relationship with each other.
  • However, If they yell, “You’re the worst parent in the world!” It’s a sign of criticism. It won’t allow for a peaceful and sensitive discussion. In fact, it closes any possibility of genuine connection.

Set healthy boundaries

It is possible to be patient with yourself and with them, accept responsibility, rectify the situation, and protect yourself from abusive or disrespectful treatment; this is a big task, and parenting is almost always a struggle.

There’s a distinction between allowing your child to vent anger or vent frustrations and allowing them to physically or verbally abuse you.

While the majority of disrespect is categorized as inconsiderate behavior rather than violence, you should establish limits and demand more civil conversations.

Healthy relationships are built on respecting personal boundaries. If you’re trying to set boundaries in place for your child, and they continue to resist them, that’s a sign they aren’t tolerant of you or your requirements, which means your bond with them could be toxic.

Do well to teach them to take responsibility for their actions!

You’re a human being, and you’ve probably made some mistakes while raising your child, but if your child blames you for everything wrong in their life and insists on “playing the victim” all the time, it’s an indicator that they haven’t learned how to take accountability for their actions.

  • Some of their reasons may be legitimate and worthy of discussion with you to move past it, but if your children blame you for all their problems, that’s an indication they’re using you as a cover to avoid the burden of their own life.
  • Adult children who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives could try to argue that they were fired, dismissed, or made a poor financial choice because of you: your way of raising them, what you did when they were in school, and your inability to be a loving parent “enough,” etc.

Don’t give in to their manipulation.

A toxic child typically employs manipulative techniques to get what they want from you. They could use passive aggression to get you to give their demands or might decide to abscond if you decide to say “no” to them.

  • What your child’s desires will differ from case instance: they may be looking for money or tangible products or be feeling powerful for being a bully.
  • If, for instance, your child requests money and you say no, they might attempt to convince you to offer it to them through crying or by insisting that they genuinely require it but making you look like a bad parent not giving it to them, or not ignoring you until you agree to it.

Stay big on healthy boundaries. 

Establishing healthy boundaries with your child can make your relationship less toxic. This could mean restricting the hours you spend with your adult child, avoiding discussing certain subjects, or telling them that if they start to be rude, manipulative, or act out in a hostile manner or threatening, you’ll end the conversation.

  • If you’re aware that long-term visits can end in a fight, try to cut down on your trips to avoid either of you from getting tired and stressed out.
  • If they make you feel insulted, say, “I’m not going to tolerate that. I’ll talk to you later,” and walk away.
  • If they are trying to bring up an issue you’re not willing to talk about, you can say, “I would like not to speak about this, but we can discuss some other topics. What’s going on? How’s work?”

Read More: Top Quotes About Respect In Relationships And Love

Read More: Turn Inward Emotional Turbulence to Inner Peace

Read More: Networking Quotes to Inspire You to Connect With People


Parents, if your goal is to know how to manage your adult child, you should take several points.

  • Be confident: adult children tend to bring down confidence levels with their actions. Stand firm when dealing with them.
  • Don’t do it all on your own: Get help from a professional in dealing with your adult children; these toxic traits run deep.
  • Be patient, but be strong: Sometimes, tough love is required, but make sure that they know that you care about them.
  • Learn more! Learn as much as you can about this peculiar flaw in character. Apply the information you have learned.

While it’s often a dire diagnosis, some adult children eventually grow up. They might not be the great citizens they should be, but they are more prepared to raise their own children and keep up relationships. The destructive behavior of adult children can be difficult to overcome; it is something very possible.

If this is something you’re going through, don’t give up; don’t abandon the cause. I’ve witnessed people change, and I’ve also observed it took an extended time to achieve this. The most important thing, I believe, is education about the subject and having patience. I wish you all the best.

You May Also Like