It’s tough to know how to talk with older parents about difficult topics. Are you gonna say the wrong thing and push your elderly parent away?
In this episode (#005) of THE CARING FOR AGING PARENTS SHOW, I share 7 tips for talking with older parents about their needs and wishes related to caregiving and difficult topics.
Emotions tend to run high around difficult topics like driving, independent living, health decisions, and managing money. Taking the time to prepare for these conversations will set you up for success.
So watch the video now!
Here's an overview of the 7 tips I share for talking with your aging parents about their needs and wishes with caregiving and difficult topics!
Tip 1: Call for a Parent/Family Meeting
Ask to meet with your parents to talk about their wishes in older adulthood. By calling for a family (or one:one) meeting you and your aging parents will have the time to prepare, both logistically and emotionally.... and you'll have the chance to manage expectations about what this meeting is about. In fact, you might even suggest a topic ahead of time.
When calling for a meeting, it's important to consider what's best for your aging parent. Do they prefer everyone to meet together? Or, does your parent do better one on one? Really be mindful of this and plan accordingly.
Tip 2: Take the time to prepare for the conversation.
Take the time to prepare for these conversations by becoming familiar with the different topics you and your parents will need to talk about, and choose one topic to start with. Here are some common topics:
Once you have the topic to discuss, take it a step further and come up with a list of questions having to do with that topic.
Tip 3: Work Through Your Feelings First
It’s normal to have all sorts of feelings about transitions in your parents' lives, not to mention feelings about having to have these conversations in the first place. Processing your own feelings before talking with your parents will help you to stay focused, grounded, and empathic when you actually have these conversations. Some common feelings are:
It's really important to feel your way through the complex feelings that come up with caring for aging parents. The more you can show yourself love and compassion and take care of yourself leading up to this meeting, the better able you will be to stay grounded and empathic when you are actually in the meeting itself!
This is an important step, so please take the time to care for yourself first!
Tip 4: Ask Your Parent About Their Needs & Wishes
Start with one topic and ask with genuineness and kindness about their needs and wishes related to this one topic.
For example when talking about financial management you might say: "I'm so curious to hear about your thoughts about how you'd like to go about managing your finances if there comes a time that you can no longer manage your money."
This is precisely why it's important to take the time to work through your feelings first (Tip 3)! It will allow you to stay clear, calm, and compassionate with your parent when they share with you what their needs and wishes are. Your parents may naturally have many thoughts and feelings around discussions about their future, so the more grounded and prepared you are, the more successful these conversations will be.
Tip 5: Use Your Empathy Skills
Be aware going into these conversations that your parents will have all sorts of feelings about transitions in their lives.
Soften your tone and practice listening. Listen for the anger, sadness, and fear. Don’t run away from your parents' feelings, instead, move toward them with love and care. Giving your parents the room to express themselves with you listening and being empathic will help them adjust to changes AND strengthen the relationship between you. And you are going to be relying on the relationship between for the difficulties to come.
Tip 6: Be Present & Stay on the Topic at Hand
When talking with parents about hot topics, it can be easy to get sucked into old relationship dynamics, and this can have the effect of derailing the conversation, and moving you off topic.
During this conversation, if your mind (or feelings) shift back to times in your relationship where there has been pain or conflict, or you notice that you and your parent are getting off track, simply notice it, and shift the focus back to the topic at hand.
Tip 7: Remember That This Will Be One of Many Conversations To Come
It's important to know that this will be one of many conversations to come. So if things do get heated and you are not communicating effectively, simply say, "This was a good start. Let's take a break and try again another time."
This is a process. It's a long road. And, these conversations take time. So, when you notice that you've escalated to a yelling match or that either one of you are hitting a brick wall, it can help to take a break and try again another time.
If you remember nothing else from these tips, please remember to take the time to work through your feelings. Doing this can help you stay grounded in the stormiest of times.
If you didn't watch the video earlier, watch the video now!
Lots of love to you and your family!
Dr. Regina Koepp
PS: Tweet this blog so that the whole world (or at least your followers) will have tips for helping them have healthy conversations with their aging parents.
PPS: Don't forget to download my free starter kit! It's filled with loads of information and resources to help you get started with caring for your aging parents. (Psst, it'll even help if you've been caregiving for a while now!)
I'm a Stanford trained, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist specializing with older adults and families! I'm an Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, and a staff Psychologist at the Atlanta VA Health Care System. I'm a mom of two little kids and a daughter to aging parents.
I'm dedicated to helping you care for your aging parents, so that you have peace of mind knowing that you're doing everything you can to help your parents live their best lives, without giving up your own life in the process.
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