ften, one of the most frustrating challenges we face as our parents age is communicating our concerns about their health, whether it be physical, mental or financial. The dynamics of the parent/child relationship (you being the child) do not change. They still see you as their child and it’s their job to see to your needs.They don’t particularly like to hear what you think they should do when they have needs. Nor do they like the fact that you might notice they are having problems. Hence a bigger problem – they don’t tell you they are having any issues, and often, you are literally the last to know because they “didn’t want to worry you.”
The first hurdle is to establish a basis of trust from which to communicate. Love is a good place to start. A heart to heart conversation about aging (yours and theirs), how much you care about them and their well being, and your need to talk about these things. (Remember, they see you as the child whose needs are to be met, so let’s use that knowledge – it’s about your needs, not theirs.”
Sometimes, talking about a sensitive subject is easier when utilizing a third person as an example. This removes the word “you” from the discussion, which is like jabbing a finger at them. Let’s just say you’re concerned about them living alone. Do you know of anyone or any circumstance where an older person is living alone? What are the issues that person deals with? What were their outcomes? What does your parent/loved one think about that person living alone; what works, what doesn’t? This gives you insight into their own fears and allows you to ask, “What would you do then?” or, “What do you think they should do/have done?” Then, on another day, pick a different topic and learn what they think about it. You will glean a great deal of useful information.
Four words to take out of your vocabulary: Always, Never, But & Why
Remove these words from most sentences and you will receive a much better response from people.
You always … nobody always does or always thinks anything.
You never … nobody never does or never thinks something.
(Besides, how does anyone ever really know what someone thinks or doesn’t think?)
But … negates or contradicts the first part of the sentence: “It’s a nice day, but I wish it would stop raining.” This means you are complaining about the rain. “I like it, but…..” means you don’t really like it, you prefer something else. “I agree with you, but I think….” really means you disagree!
Why … Asking why someone did or thought something is considered a challenge; you are essentially asking them to justify their thoughts or actions. If you want to understand why they did or said something, say these phrases instead: “What brings you to that conclusion? What was your reasoning when you said or did that? How did you come to that point? What are your reasons?”
Lastly, people hate silence. Do not fill the void. Ask a question and WAIT for an answer. Silence will wear on them and they will reply — IF you give them time. And, if you put words in their mouth, i.e., help them with their answer like, “Do you mean X or do you think Y?” their answer won’t be in their words, it will be in yours. If they originate the answer, it’s in their words, from their heart and their mind, not yours and you will get their perspective. Isn’t that what you want? Your guesses are not helpful and they will not be their words. It will be something YOU said, not them!
This takes practice and making a serious effort to take time to think before talking. The results will prove it’s worth the effort.