Opening the Lines of Communication: Tips & Strategies

Young adults have a strong psychological need to be autonomous and feel competent in their day to day lives. Meeting these needs are critical to healthy development and being able to successfully live independently someday. It can be pretty messy at times when young adults are attempting to achieve these needs. Parents and coaches alike, often find that when they try to help, which may include giving advice or telling them how to do something they get push back despite how reasonable the advice or directive is. It often can feel like they are power struggling to their detriment because what you have to say is meant to help them solve their problems or improve in a key area of their life, not make their matters worse. For those parents whose young adult has moved back home due to COVID-19 requirements, this may feel familiar. You may have discovered that this dynamic has reared its ugly head, and once again it feels like your young adult has become the disgruntled teen from years gone by.

Stress, especially the type we are all feeling during these unpredictable times can cause us to fall back into old behaviors, behaviors that we believed our child left behind as they matured while away at college. It is quite common that young adults who move back home will unknowingly slip back into more immature, irresponsible behaviors due to living with parents again.

In order to support autonomy and competence to flourish in a healthy way in your young adult’s life, especially for those of you whose adult child (or adult children are) is back in the home, we have highlighted key tips and strategies to support open, thoughtful, and respectful communication during this high time of stress.

Tip 1: Don’t approach your young adult until you both are calm. If you begin any conversation upset, it is bound to go south quickly, and as a result, the tips & strategies below won’t be effective. Brain science informs us that when we are angry, frustrated, scared, or sad we struggle to make rational, reasonable choices and decisions. We experience a shorter fuse and struggle to listen. When emotions are high, we are more inclined to tell someone what to do vs having the patience to listen and then collaborate to solve the problem.

Strategy: Taking a time-out does work! This time away from the stressor is meant to support emotional regulation, which may include engaging in distractions such as, a hot bath, walking the dog, baking cookies, or talking to your coach. This time away from the stressor allows the blood flow in our brain to shift from your emotional center to your reasonable center, which enacts our all-important executive function abilities, which includes, controlling emotions and being more thoughtful in your approach. After engaging in this time away from the conflict for approximately 30 minutes you are then ready to move on to Tip 2.

Tip 2: Approaching them from a place of collaboration is the overall goal. Our recommendations to enhance your collaborative efforts with your young adult child include:


  1. Ask questions first. Ask questions that invite your child to collaborate with you versus leading to them shutting you down.
  2. Do not advise or direct them because that will automatically shut down the lines of communication. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that when you ask for permission first, people often become more willing to hear what you have to say! And in some cases, they may actually agree with you!
  3. Present opportunities to them that invite them to help solve a problem. This will reinforce their feeling of competence.

Collaboration allows for both parties to feel equal parts of power and control. When we tell someone how to do something without being invited to, we are essentially telling them they are not capable. For the still developing young adults you are parenting, they are craving: Autonomy: being able to make their own (responsible) choices and decisions, and Competence: being able to do something successfully.

Questions & statements that are meant to facilitate engagement and collaboration:

  • Do you mind if I make a suggestion?
  • I have some ideas about how you may be able to solve that problem, is it ok if I share them with you?
  • Let me know if you can’t figure it out, I may have some ideas that can help.
  • Do you mind if I check in with you later to see how it went?
  • Do you have any suggestions on how we might approach that or fix that?
  • Do you know anyone who has dealt with this before? What did they do?

Key Tip: Although it is very likely they will be more open to hearing your ideas and suggestions when you follow these tips and strategies, keep in mind that you are asking for permission and if they tell you “no”, respect their boundary. They either are not ready to hear what you have to say or do not want to engage in a collaborative discussion in that moment, especially if they are upset. The more willing you are to take a step back and do this, the more likely they will start to be agreeable to collaborate with you and move towards you rather than away.

These tips and strategies will take practice so be patient with yourself. Given we are going to be together for some time to come, you will have plenty of opportunities to become an expert at collaborating with your young adult. This will pay off in dividends.

Take good care,

The Team at Collegiate Coaching Services