Get a Quote

Discover great savings and benefits with auto insurance from The Hartford.

What to Do When Your Adult Kids Keep Fighting

Michele Lerner

Kids go through many phases as they grow up and as a parent, you were there every step of the way. Whether your kids were tantrum-throwing toddlers who hit each other or temperamental teens, you probably had tactics for controlling their behavior.

In fact, you probably convinced yourself that they would outgrow their tumultuous years. Unfortunately, not all siblings get along, even after they become adults. If you periodically find yourself between warring sons and daughters, you may want to consider what experts recommend for parenting adult children.

How to Help Your Children Avoid a Fight

Disagreements happen but when your adult children are fighting frequently, it may be time to take action. The first step in helping your adult children avoid fighting is to focus on each one individually. It’s important to remember that each child brings different experiences and perspectives to the table.

Develop a Separate Relationship With Each Child

Even though your children are all grown up, they still need to know that they matter to you and that they matter equally. Competition between kids is often the root of conflicts, says Thomas Gagliano, a relationship expert and author of “The Problem Was Me.” It’s no different from when they were young. “You have to give your kids time and show them that they are important to you,” explains Gagliano.

Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and author of “When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along,” says it’s helpful to acknowledge that your adult kids are different from each other and to establish individual relationships with them. If your child thinks that you like them less than their siblings, it’s best to discuss their feelings rather than dismiss them. “You’re better off coming from a place of empathy and trying to understand why your kid feels this way than just saying it’s not true,” advises Coleman.

And although you may not want to avoid family activities entirely, if your kids are arguing, this may be a good time to go out with them individually and to avoid family dinners as an interim measure, recommends Elizabeth Fishel, co-author of “Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the Twenty-Something Years.”

Emphasize the Importance of Strong Relationships

To reduce battles and bickering among your adult kids, it’s important to send a strong message about the benefits of good relationships between siblings, says Fishel. One way to do this is to talk about your own siblings and how your battles were resolved.

Gagliano recommends telling a story about how your own brother angered you or about the conflicts your mother and your aunt faced. “Tell your kids about how these situations can make you not want a relationship with your siblings, but that eventually people realize that they want to be close to their families,” says Gagliano. “It’s important to convey that good relationships are valuable and [that you have] the confidence that your kids can work out their issues,” adds Fishel.

Be Transparent About Financial Issues

Some of the most contentious fights between siblings occur because one sibling feels that the other is receiving more money from their parents.

What makes it worse is when the parents keep it a secret, explains Fishel. “It’s much better to openly explain that one kid is going through a bad patch or needs money for something specific and then explain that when the other needs help you’ll be there for them, too,” she adds. Coleman advises parents to be mindful that they’re giving equally financially to their children and to be as conscientious and open as possible about money.

Giving Money to Grown Children: When to Stop and How to Break the Habit

What to Do If a Fight Starts Between Your Children

Gagliano suggests that parents monitor the argument between their adult offspring to see if they can come to a resolution without parental involvement. If there’s no apparent resolution, and you decide that an intervention is required, there are ways to handle the disagreement in order to arrive at a more peaceful outcome for your family.

Don’t Try to Control the Situation

Telling your kids that they have to stop bickering and get over their argument invalidates their feelings, says Gagliano. He suggests trying to remain nonjudgmental and letting them work out their differences. “You can’t guilt your kids into stopping a fight or into seeing you or their siblings more often,” says Coleman. “Guilt backfires and makes your adult kids more withdrawn.”

Acknowledge That You Can’t Stop the Fight

“You can’t fix your kids’ issues with each other, they have to do it themselves now that they are adults,” explains Gagliano. Parents, particularly mothers, often feel as though they are bad parents if their kids don’t get along as adults, says Coleman. “You just have to accept the limitations of your own power,” he says. “Don’t feel guilty about something you can’t control. Just accept it and let it go.”

Listen, but Don’t Pick a Side

Gagliano advises that parents should never agree with one kid or the other, but he does think that parents should listen to their children’s complaints. “Ask each individually how they are doing and about what’s going on,” he says. “You can’t fix the problem yourself, but you can validate their feelings and say you’re sorry if they are hurt or angry.”

Gagliano recommends that you should never excuse your kids to each other or defend their siblings because that can add to the tension. “You can empathize about a situation but never ally yourself with one child or another unless one of them is doing something truly terrible to the other,” says Coleman.

Avoid Being the Go-Between

Stepping between your fighting kids could make them turn on you. If you’re not able to be entirely objective and even-handed when talking to your kids about their issues, then you could end up with each of them assuming you’ve picked a side, warns Gagliano. “Acting as a go-between doesn’t work,” says Coleman. “In fact, your kids will likely tell their siblings what you’ve said to each of them and you could end up with all of them angry with you.”

Consider Whether You’re Contributing to the Problem

Complaints about favoritism are common in many families and can be the underlying issue when adult siblings fight. “If you are overtly or subtly favoring one child over the over, you could be contributing to their not getting along,” explains Coleman. “You can’t control your adult kids but you can control your own behavior.”

Gagliano says his mother labeled him and his brothers as the “smart one”, the “creative one” and the “good-looking one” – and that the resentment caused by those labels continues to plague their adult relationships. “Comparison is the death knell of sibling harmony,” says Fishel. “It’s never too late to stop comparing your kids and to appreciate each child for who they are.”

Ask for a Favor

Although you can’t force your children to get along, you can ask them to be polite to each other once or twice a year so that you can see your family all together. “This works particularly well if you have grandkids because it’s natural to want to see them together,” says Coleman. “Most parents will be willing to be polite for the sake of their children and their nieces and nephews,” adds Coleman.

Lobby for a Compromise

If your kids are arguing over something relatively simple such as restaurant choices or where to celebrate holidays, this might be one time that you can weigh in and resolve the issue with a logical compromise, advises Fishel. Make sure that you’re being fair to all your children when you offer your solution.

Often, the best approach when it comes to sibling fights is just waiting it out. As your kids mature and time passes, there’s likely to be a lessening of animosity between them, says Fishel. Just remember that most of the time it’s best for parents to stay out of an argument because they can just add fuel to the fire, suggests Fishel.

In the meantime, bear in mind that your days as a parent are never really over. How you handle parenting your adult kids can ease tension between the siblings. “United siblings are so much stronger than divided siblings,” remarks Fishel. “Tell your kids that even if they are bickering about minor things, it’s important to know they can lean on each other through emotional heartbreak or other frustrations. This becomes even more important later in life.”

We want to hear from other parents. Have you had the heart-splitting experience of your adult kids not getting along? Did you try the strategies above or do you have any other suggestions? Share your story in comments and maybe your story will help another parent going through a similar situation.

15 Responses to "What to Do When Your Adult Kids Keep Fighting"

  • Sheri | September 9, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    My sister and I are both adults had a fight a few years ago. Til this day my mom takes her side argues with me that I need to include her for different family functions like my sons graduation party so I invited her she didn’t come or notified me Mom said thats not a place for you to talk. I don’t get it. She was upset with me that I didn’t send my sisters daughter anything on her birthday back in June we don’t talk she hasn’t sent anything to my sons either in years. Im the bad one so I told my mom please stop yelling Im about to cry so she hangs up on me really mature My son and I feel that she hates us and my sister is filling her with anger so she yells at me

  • Maureen Grant | August 29, 2019 at 6:29 am

    I have 4 children and have just been on holiday with 2 of my daughter's and their 6 children. My husband paid for the villa and the flights . The 2nd week was the saddest thing I have ever witnessed in front of my grandchildren. The vile and disgusting things they said to each other. Things the children should not have heard. There was a physical fight at the villa. Then 3 days later a public brawl on the street and the police were nearly called. We were in shock! Saddened to the core. Then to top it all on the last day of our nightmare holiday when we were all packing and I was crying in the shower, one made another vile comment and the other one was running through the house screaming like a woman possessed. She broke a door and smashed a picture. My husband was not there at this point. I had to call the owners and pay the damage. They were so lovely to me about it all and eased my shame. Once again all in front of the 6 grandchildren who were all crying. Until then we were so very close. My husband and I cannot believe what has happened. They said they are dead to each other. My heart is broken. I haven't told my son as he is on holiday. My other daughter who is about to have her 3rd ivf treatment is disgusted and I need to be strong for her now. But the pain I feel when I think about what happened is overbearing and my husband is so sad. It's all a mess. So to anyone out there who feels the pain I feel you are not alone. We are good parents and our children had a lovely childhood. We can't control adults. They are responsible for their actions not us. I cling to the fact that they are all alive and healthy. It's the only thought that keeps me going. Our whole lives will be different now and I have to adapt. So very sad😢

  • GlenAnn | August 14, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I am not the parent, but the older sister. My brother and sister have not spoke or been in the same room for over four years. This is killing my parents. I have tried to explain to them what they are doing to all of us. Now they are not speaking to me. My parents won’t tell my brother how much he has hurt my sister because they want to see their grandkids. But they have no problem telling my sister to talk to him and make up. Even though we all know who is wrong in the fight.

  • Marcia Hatt | July 16, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Or tell them they are childish, inconsiderate, rotten people and you are sick and tired of dealing with their ignorant, petty bickering. That they are grown and you're fed up with it after 20 or more years.

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 8, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing your current situation, Susan. I'm sorry to hear this has been so tough for you and your husband.

    Has anyone else been through a similar situation? What did you do?

  • Susan | July 8, 2019 at 10:41 am

    My husband and I have 4 children.3 are biologically ours and our youngest is my husband’s sister’s son. We have 3 sons and 1 daughter. The problem is that my second oldest son, and my daughter whom are 3 years apart, do not get along. I thought for a long time, that it was because they are so alike and very opinionated, however I’ve recently began to notice that my son puts me down, in certain ways, and the same way he puts his sister down. My son is very much a mummy’s boy, as in, he calls for chats all the time, which I and my husband really love. For some reason he feels the need to constantly put his sister down when ever we spend time together as a family. He and his sister used to try and push each other off my lap, so they could be on there, and I see this type of behaviour throughout their adult lives. They are now both in their 30’s and my husband and I are are completely at a loss, as to how to stop this from continuing. So much so, that after our last family gathering, a wedding and 3 birthdays falling in the same week, he sobbed his heart out as we headed to the airport. He is completely heart broken that they do not get along, and it breaks my heart to see him so distraught. He’s at the point now, that he doesn’t want family gatherings anymore, because of the tension, bickering and judgemental behaviour. We simply adore our children and have tried to raise them close to each other, but we feel like we have failed. I also feel that we spend so much time keeping the other two from arguing, that we don’t spend enough quality time with our oldest son and his family. we don’t want our family to be like our family’s of origin. We thought we raised them differently. We are intelligent, educated, loving parents who have provided a good life for our children. So why can’t they just get along? Where did we go wrong?

  • Grammie Sue | May 25, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    My heart is broken and I do not know what to do. My adult daughters are now not talking to each other. This rift goes back to childhood. The youngest brings up things from then. The older one feels righteous like she has been nothing but loving and inclusive but in reality she has always been critical of her younger sister. The younger sister decided not be around the older one and her family at the holidays because she says her older sister ruined her sons birthday party by getting angry for the younger one correcting her daughter. I know this has been brewing for ages but have been powerless to change any of it. I love them both with all my heart and want them to let their kids have time together. But now every is separate. The youngest sent the older one a text message that was hurtful. They have both been hurt by each other. My birthday is in August and I am thinking of telling both I want a truce. I just want to be able to have my family together without feel this hateful separation. Any suggestions?

  • Extra Mile Staff | April 1, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Hi Jackie. Thanks for your comment. Feel free to share this article with your family!

  • Jackie Hammack | April 1, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    My sister and aunt gets on my case for being mean my mom tells them to stop because i am not their concern my sister thinks she can rule me she calls me a brat

  • Extra Mile Staff | February 25, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Hope, thanks for reading and sharing your story.

  • hope | February 23, 2019 at 9:29 am

    I am not the parent reading this, but the adult daughter who found this article because I fight so much with my sister. We are fraternal twins, 20 years old. I perfectly agree with this article especially the financial part and parting-up during fight part. And I think growing separate relationships is a good idea since my mom and my twin and I are so intertwined emotionally and everything and the result isn't good. Reading various articles, I think having jealousy towards each other is a fundamental reason in the serious fights that continue up to adulthood. As fraternal twins, we were constantly compared very explicitely and straightforwardly by our family members and friends and strangers. This comparison is so cruel. They usually comment things on appearance and accomplishments, like "Hey you are prettier" "How come she went to a better university?" "How come you guys are twins but she is much slimmer?". My twin and I have been constantly compared like this and we feel awful being compared, either we get the compliment or get compared in a bad way. We feel sorry for each other either way. These comparisons built rivalry and hatred and envy towards each other on such things (attractiveness and accomplishments). I hope people do not compare siblings in ANY way. Just do not make any remarks about differences. It is a common sense that we are different. Why point it out? Why say it out loud? I hope people get it into common sense that everybody is so different, even twins, especially fraternal twins because we are genetically not alike AT ALL. Thanks for the article. It is helpful in understanding the situation I am in now. I hope my twin sister and I fight less often and get over the hurts in our past of being compared and favored by different people on different things. She is my bestfriend and my worst enemy when we fight.

  • Linda | December 20, 2018 at 4:45 am

    My grown kids are 31 & 32. They got along in the early years. Teen years started the turmoil. When my husband died when they were in high school, there was a brief truce. Now that my son is having a son (name sake of seven generations) he and his wife decided to use a middle name nickname b/c her family doesn’t like the family name. Problem is the nickname they are using is the name my daughter wants to use to honor her father’s memory when she has children. She’s been telling me for 13 years this is what she planned to do. Her brother says too bad. I’m caught in the middle and want to cancel all holiday plans because it’s going to be awkward. What to do? I’m the only one just sick over this. HELP

  • Martie | October 2, 2018 at 9:20 am

    I am divorced my children have different options about their father, that normally start a fight. They are 40 and 39 with their own families. Can I just distance myself?

  • jim todd | June 26, 2018 at 3:23 am


  • Robin | February 5, 2018 at 2:39 am

    My sons are 10 years apart in age. #1 son served in the AF for ten years, lost his father when he was still serving. He is a son from different father. My #2 son is like an only child because siblings have left home. Oldest son has two children an is a single parent. Now a RN and works, owns home, and is responsible. Youngest son still lives with us. Although he has a BS in mass communications he has yet to find a full time job. He tried living with his brother but that's where their relationship went sour. This is why youngest came back home. No full time job not able to pay for apartment yet. So now the boys(men) do not talk anymore..oldest thinks the youngest is spoiled and should be out on his own. This has my heart split into....

Leave a Reply

Comments are subject to moderation and removal without cause or justification and may take up to 24 hours to be seen in comments. At Extra Mile we do not have access to personal policy information, please do not include personal identification information. If you have questions or concerns regarding your policy, please log into your account at our customer service center or you can speak directly to a Customer Service Representative.