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Are You a Good Friend to Your Grown-up Kid?

5 tips for relating to your now-adult child

3. Do what you love together and intimacy will follow

When kids were young, family time happened inevitably. But now to hang out with your cooking-on-all-burners 20-somethings, you need to get creative.

Many parents will go to great lengths to carve out time and activities that work for their grown children. Hard-to-get baseball tickets or dinner reservations, biking, skiing, even training for a marathon, like one gutsy, 64-year-old mother of two agile sons. Her report: "My knees hurt, but I learned so much about them."

Jigsaw puzzles work for the less athletic, according to another mother of three sons ages 18 to 25. Heart-to-hearts follow their shared searches for matching pieces. "I take what's offered, I'm never down their throats about anything, and I very rarely raise a subject they mentioned once in another conversation." Plus, she respects her guys' conversational styles. "They keep it short and sweet. A long discussion is 60 to 90 seconds."

4. Set ground rules for how to disagree

Many of the benefits parents reap at this stage result from the kids' more sharply honed communication skills. Compared with their younger selves, emerging adults are more likely to talk things over with their parents and peaceably process disagreements. Plus, they're better able to see the other person's point of view. Their frontal cortex is ripening like fine wine, and that means improved judgment, less impulsivity and a greater likelihood they'll think before they speak.

If conflict does start to escalate, dial it down by listening to them without interrupting and then commenting in a neutral tone. When that's not possible, taking a time-out for both sides to calm down is as useful at this stage as it was during their toddler years. Sleeping on it or letting heated emotions cool is also as good a strategy to use with grown children as it is for any couple or close friends.

5. Make room for the significant others in their lives

Maybe you wish that your son's girlfriend had fewer tattoos or that your daughter's boyfriend had a better job. But unless you notice behavior that's seriously disturbing, do your best to embrace the people your grown kids love. And when they do settle on a partner, accept that it follows naturally for them to put that person first. When it comes to big decisions, plans or handling hardships, even the most dutiful grown children will shift their primary attachment to their mate. If they don't, watch out: Marital trouble may follow.

As parents, you're in the business of putting yourselves out of a job when your kids grow up, so nurture your own dreams while continuing to cultivate a close friendship with them.

Elizabeth Fishel and Jeffrey Jensen Arnett are coauthors of When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult to be published by Workman in May. Elizabeth Fishel is a widely published writer specializing in family issues and is the author of four nonfiction books. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., is a leading expert on emerging adulthood.

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