How to Get Your Loved One to Do What You Want

d0003500

Few situations in family caregiving are as frustrating as slamming into resistance from your loved one. Whether he or she needs to take a bath, visit the doctor, make a decision, or do some everyday task that will improve mood or health, you know you can't use brute force. Instead, you seem to wind up begging -- or quarreling.

"A natural push-pull situation is set up when you want someone to do something -- but the more you push, the more they pull," says geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What's a better way to get someone to do what you want? Try these five ideas:

1. Employ a secret weapon in gaining consensus: empathy.

Step away from marshaling facts and arguments, wheedling and pleading, or falling into a yes-no, black-white ping-pong match. You'll each paint yourself into a corner before you know it, unable to back down or get out. When you instead begin by acknowledging what's being felt by the other person, you're halfway to agreement already.

Being empathetic defuses negativity. It underscores that your loved one's feelings come first. Sometimes people need to express their fear and anxiety before they can "hear" the facts. And most older adults want to retain a sense of autonomy and control -- they want to be sure that their perspective is understood, because it's central to choices concerning them.

2. Ask questions rather than issuing commands.

Even kindly phrased commands can sound like orders to another's ears. And then you're back to a tug-of-war. So instead of telling your loved one what to do, ask his or her opinion. This may go against the grain if there's really not any question in your mind about what needs doing (taking a bath, for example!). But investing a few moments to be considerate, not condescending, will earn cooperation and, more likely, agreement.

Also, look for a creative way to involve the other party in the decision at hand. For example, you might say, "Jane's going to stop by today. How would you like to look when she does? Do you want a bath and then for me to fix your hair?" Or, "Which matters more to you, A or B?"

3. Appeal to a third party -- even if it's only in theory.

Your loved one might not care to do something in order to please you -- but often there's another motivating person out there you can invoke to help build your case. "Think of someone the person respects, someone the person wouldn't want to disappoint, who's not there every day," says Robbins.

Examples: a doctor, a religious figure, a sibling, an old boss, a former teacher. The person doesn't have to be present, but his or her influence can affect the situation at hand. For example: "I think it's fine if you don't shower every day. But when we go to the doctor's, he might think that I'm not taking very good care of you."

This approach, done respectfully, can work with anyone. But if your loved one has mild cognitive issues, invoking a meaningful figure from the past can be a particularly powerful motivator.

4. Break the task into manageable parts.

You'll get more cooperation if you're seeking something down-to-earth rather than asking for the moon. Avoid saying something like, "Mom! Look at this place! We've got to sort through all your stuff and get rid of half of it." Better: "Can you help me tidy this shelf? I don't know which of your books and papers should go here and which we could put in organizer folders."

5. Save commands for emergencies only.

It's said that toddlers learn to tune out the word "No!" when they hear it all day long; it simply loses its power. The same is true for all of us. That's not to say you should never use commands. Sometimes the only way to get someone to do something is by taking a firm and insistent stance. But it only works if you use the approach sparingly, Robbins says.

When you're trying to get someone to take medicine, fasten a seat belt, or not get behind the wheel of a car when it's too dangerous, it's fair to draw a line in the sand: "I'm not taking you to the barber unless you fasten your seat belt." "I'm not serving dessert until you take your pills."


over 3 years ago, said...

Yes, very. My husband i in the early stage of Alzheimer's and I am trying to et used to all the changes coming into our lives and trying very hard to learn to say the right things in order to keep peace in our home. Not finding it easy at the moment! Jodry


over 3 years ago, said...

Yes I agree it sounds great but some people ARE exceptionally stubborn. It doesn't matter what I seem to Say to my mother she always goes the opposite direction. She's looking for a fight.


over 3 years ago, said...

There's theory and then there's application. Sounds very good, except for exceptionally stubborn people.


over 3 years ago, said...

my mom is frequently argumentative. I will certainly try some of these techniques, thanks.


over 3 years ago, said...

Not commanding, just letting them think it was their idea. Trying not to stay after them all the time.


over 3 years ago, said...

The examples were hard to understand....I usually have no problem and find Paula Spencer Scott very easy to follow. This article was not easy for me to use it in our situation w/our mothers.


over 3 years ago, said...

I like giving the person cared for options. It is best when the options are palatable to the caregiver, too.


over 4 years ago, said...

I was just dealing with this (again) yesterday. My Dad, at 92, walks with a walker and is only on B/P meds. He says he takes an "Army Bath" and doesn't need to get in the tub. I think I am going to let it go for now.


over 4 years ago, said...

Everyone gets more relax and is a very intelligent way to convince. No quarrels...


over 4 years ago, said...

some more in depth explanation


over 4 years ago, said...

How to get-----do what you want. Wonderfully helpful. Thought the suggestions were very helpful and great reminders of the automatic things we say and need to reword our thoughts.


over 4 years ago, said...

Thank you onthefly I needed to hear it would be okay to just let her stay in bed once and a while. It would be kinder to both of us. Sometimes it feels like I'm being so mean making her get up. I will give it a try! Thanks! Kathi


over 4 years ago, said...

Thank you younggold for the hug & kind words. I tried to send one back to you but today my computer isn't responding correctly. ( could be me though, I'm new to this). Thank you and bless you and your Mom as well. Kathi


over 4 years ago, said...

Never is it more important to pick your battles than with the elderly. They may need to stay in bed, not dress, or bathe occasionally. Tomorrow's another day. :)


over 4 years ago, said...

If you are dealing with someone who is not rational none of these will work. i.e. if you say "I want you to stop X" so that I and your children will not have to watch you vomiting from ulcers 10 years from now" and the response is,"see, this is ALL about you, you do not really care about my well-being.'


over 4 years ago, said...

I have a hard time getting my Mom out of bed in the mornings....I will try some of these suggestions.......for me, getting my mom up is by far the hardest part of taking care of her. She is 94 and has dementia & arthritis. Thank you for your column.


over 4 years ago, said...

Provided alternatives for dealing with negative situations. Options for me the caregiver.


over 4 years ago, said...

What has actually worked for me lately has been the "impending event" idea. I have had trouble getting mom into the shower, although washing everyday had not been a problem. I finally said to her, without any anger or more anxiety then I would commenting on the weather, "You not taking a shower is not a problem I had expected we would have. You can not go from now until you die without showering. You have two weeks to wrap your head around the fact that #1. I do not give you permission to die and #2. You must concede years without a shower would not work for either of us. I then laughed and changed the subject. She made one or two small comments that I acknowledged but only spoke #1 & #2 out loud. Two days later she stated "I could not expect to have her not get a shower!! When did I think I could arrange the time?" It takes time for her mind to "digest" simple ideas. They then seem to be her idea and that works best for me. I have found the simpler I keep it the better it is. I find the shortest sentence that conveys the idea and just repeat as needed. It has taken up to two weeks for the "idea" to be hers but so much easier then the push/pull scene.


over 4 years ago, said...

the fact that giving orders is what it sounds like when you constantly attempt to get a loved one to do or not to do something. Ours has a problem with fecal incontinence. Constantly attempts to clean it up before we are aware it has happened. I believe its because of a privacy issue, and perhaps we should NOT continue to say its something WE will not tolerate but change the subject to what he/she feels the need to do and how we can help???


over 4 years ago, said...

Thanks I really needed that, because I have been going round and round with my mom. She is so strong willed and strong minded and determined to go against the grain every time. That what make me so frustrated with her. Thanks again for this article.


over 4 years ago, said...

I am a caregiver, and these tips are very helpful.