Avoid Getting Your Buttons Pushed by Your Aging Parents

Sometimes it’s hard for parents to stop parenting. For some adult children, interactions with parents leave them feeling like they’re teenagers again, and they may respond like a teen. The occasional family gathering can be annoying but manageable. It can become more of a problem when family members are thrown together under stressful circumstances such as a family emergency or helping to care for an elderly parent.

Clients often say they wish they didn’t react the way they do when parents push their buttons. I sometimes draw from a social psychology theory called Transactional Analysis (TA) to give clients some easy tools for recognizing what’s going on between them and their parents.

TA was developed by Eric Berne, and made famous by his book, “Games People Play.” Berne theorizes that people relate to one another at one of three levels parent, child or adult. Communications, or what Berne calls transactions, can be at the same level–for example, parent to parent–or at different levels–such as child to adult. Some examples of transactions:


“Here’s a list of things for you to do.”

“It’s my house and my rules.”

“Don’t talk to me that way!”


“I don’t have to listen to you.”

“I’ll do what I want to!”

“This isn’t fair.”


“It upsets me when you talk to me like this.”

“I’d like to come up with a solution that’s agreeable to both of us.”

“Can we talk about this without shouting?”

I’ve shared just a sliver of what Transactional Analysis is all about but the basics are useful in quickly identifying what’s going on in communications that aren’t working. When one person is communicating at one level and the other at a different level, communications–or transactions–can break down. So, when parents’ talk to their adult child like, well, parents, it can be difficult to not respond at a “child” level. It can also be that when you are worried about your aging parent, you communicate with him or her at a “parent” level and he or she responds at a “child” level. If you can begin to communicate at an “adult” level, it may be possible that your parent will eventually respond to you at the same level. This may make your discussions go more smoothly.

Changing family patterns is not something that is easy to do but with some awareness and practice it is possible.

Would you like to talk about your specific situation?

Email, call or text (503) 243-2283.

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