How to Say "No" to Your Adult Children

By Kathryn Rateliff Barr
Sometimes adult children ask for something, like money, that you just can't say
Sometimes adult children ask for something, like money, that you just can't say "yes" to.

Parents get lots of requests from their children over the course of a lifetime. Many parents learn to say “no” fairly quickly as the child begins to explore the world. Many times, parents say “no” to protect the child and teach the child right and wrong. Hopefully, the child learns proper behavior, and parents have to say “no” less frequently as the child matures.

Sometimes, adult children ask for things or help. Sometimes parents must say “no,” even when they would like to say “yes” but can’t. Parents and adult children must accept that sometimes the answer is “no.”

Listen carefully to what your adult child is asking. Ensure that you understand the question and that you fully hear him out. Allow him to fully present his request and reasons so he knows you are listening and giving him the respect and consideration he desires.

Ask questions if you are not clear about the request. Restate the request in your own words so you are both clear about what is being asked.

Take a minute or two to consider the request and your response. This doesn’t mean you have to answer “yes” to an unreasonable or impossible request. Consider how you can respond in a manner that makes your position clear, your love and respect for the child clear and your complete understanding of the question.

Begin with a statement of appreciation and love for your child. You might even thank her for asking for your support and assistance.

Answer the request with a “no” and at least one reason why you cannot answer "yes.” You might say, “I’d love to be able to help, but my financial situation does not allow me to say “yes.” Don’t make up an excuse. Stick to the truth. If you honestly believe that saying yes would be enabling or detrimental to him, say it.

Explore other alternatives if you believe the question has merit but is beyond your ability. Brainstorm possible ways to help that encourage her to be self-reliant, responsible and mature. For example, if you can’t buy her a car or fix hers, perhaps you could get her to the train or bus station to get to work. Perhaps you can loan her your car on infrequent occasions and help her set up a budget to save for the down payment on a used car.

Affirm your belief in him and his ability to find the right solution or make the right choice. Affirm your support and your love even when you have to say “no.”

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.