Effective communication is essential to every relationship, particularly so in a caregiving situation. Often it is not what you say, but how you say it that determines how your message is received.
Here are some suggestions for improving your conversations with your elderly parents.
1. RESPECT your parents by treating them as your equals. Treat them as you wish them to treat you. Ask for, and value, their opinions.
2. LISTEN. Attentive listening requires participation, openness and receptivity. Listening is hard work.
- Practice clarifying. Ask questions when you’re unsure. Instead of asking, “Why do you want to eat in your room?” try, “How is dining in your room more comfortable for you than going to the dining room?”
- Make sure your message is understood. Try, “I’m not sure I’m being clear. What did you hear?”
- Practice repeating. To minimize misunderstanding, summarize what you hear. “I heard you say...” or “I think are you telling me...”
- Practice reflecting feelings. Let others know that you hear and understand their thoughts. Consider what someone is feeling but not saying. Empathy is important. Try, “If that happened to me, I’d be angry.”
3. THINK before responding. Don’t speak when you’re angry or upset. Silence can be startlingly effective. Try it.
Take time to rehearse before starting a potentially difficult conversation. Practice what you will say, and try to predict what the response will be.
4. DEVELOP an appropriate speaking style and body language. How you speak is just as important as what you say. Maintain eye contact. Enunciate clearly. Be positive and brief.
Radiate friendliness, concern for your parents’ well-being, and love. Avoid body language that could be construed negatively, such as grimaces, lip biting, rolling your eyes and fidgeting.
5. SET boundaries. You can refuse requests without rejecting your parents. You can say no to Mother when her requests are unreasonable, or when your circumstances are such that you cannot comply.
Ask, rather than complain. Complying with a request and then complaining about it later, whether to your parent, your spouse, or just to yourself, is grounds for resentment. Instead, ask if you could do it later or if someone else can do it.
6. PRAISE. Show appreciation for your parents, and let them know you realize that they tried to do the best they could. Acknowledge the good characteristics that they passed on to you, as well as the valuable things you learned from them. Praise them often and publicly!