Caregiving can cause major changes in family dynamics. Physical, emotional, social and financial issues can arise, affecting the roles, responsibilities and feelings of each family member. Such widespread change to the family dynamic can lead to increased tension and frequent disagreements.
Constant friction can be frustrating, but learning what goes into healthy, two-way communication can help family members understand and interact with one another more easily and effectively. The following tips may not help or apply in every situation, but using them will ensure that you are doing all you can to engage in productive communication.
1. Don’t Give Advice Unless It’s Asked For
Parents have guided and advised their children their whole lives, so hearing advice from a child–even an adult child—might not go over so well. This scenario highlights the perception of parent-child role reversal that often occurs in caregiving, and it can be hard for the parent to accept. Therefore, giving advice is best avoided unless you are sure it has been requested. It is generally better to let a neutral outside party be the advisor. You can provide encouragement and support, without doling out advice.
2. Listen to What Your Elderly Parent Is Saying
Really listen to what your elder is saying. Don’t interrupt them or feel the urge to fill periods of silence that often occur during conversations. A brief pause could mean your family member is contemplating a response and thinking through the conversation and how to reply. Listening does go both ways, though, so try to determine that the person is hearing what you say, too.
3. Accept Differences of Opinion
No matter how tightknit a family is, everyone is not going to agree all of the time. Respect others’ opinions the same way you would like yours to be, and don’t disregard those who disagree with you. Listen to all sides, and try to compromise when a decision must be made.
4. Speak Clearly
Some older adults do not like to admit that they are hard of hearing or have trouble understanding the conversation around them. Remain calm and talk in a gentle, matter-of-fact way. Speak louder, if necessary, but do not shout. Make sure to enunciate clearly and avoid mumbling and talking too quickly. Focus on one idea at a time, and keep sentences short and simple. If your loved one still isn’t grasping what you are saying, try phrasing it differently and using different words.
5. Don’t Be Condescending
Make sure your attempt to “turn up the volume” and slow down your speech pattern doesn’t come across as condescending. Even if your parent suffers from dementia or extreme hearing loss, don’t speak to them as if they are a child. Being patronizing is a surefire way to start an argument.
6. Choose the Right Environment
Avoid having in-depth or important conversations in settings where there is lots of competing noise or distracting activities. Turn the TV or radio off, or at least lower the volume. Face the person as you talk to them so that they can pick up on your facial expressions and read your lips, if necessary. When talking in a group, make sure that the elder is not on the end of the table or the outskirts of a seating arrangement. It is better to place them in the middle so that the conversation is happening around them.
7. Consider What It Is Like To Be Older
Most seniors experience a series of losses as they get older and strive to stay in control of themselves and their environment. Even if communicating with a loved one is frustrating and complicated, do your best to keep them involved in conversations and decisions they are able to participate in. Be mindful that your efforts to help can make them feel like they’re giving away control of things.
8. Pick Your Battles
Many seniors face growing challenges as they age, including mobility limitations, decreased stamina, loneliness and memory problems. While your goal is to ensure their wellbeing, tackling every single issue at once can be frustrating and embarrassing for an elder. Instead, try to prioritize the issues you want to address and celebrate small victories one at a time.
9. Ask Questions
Having trouble thinking of things to talk about? Many of us don’t ask our elders nearly enough about their lives, especially as they get older. There’s no better way to become closer to a person, even if you’ve known them since you were born, than to ask. Find some conversation starters here: 20 Questions to Ask Your Elderly Parents
10. Laugh When You Can
Laughter really is the best medicine. Humorous moments often arise, even in the most difficult and stressful caregiving situations. Be open to the opportunity to lighten things up and take things a little less seriously. A shared laugh can ease tension and build closeness with your loved ones. However, be sure to laugh with your family members and not at their expense.