Communicating with your parent about their caregiving needs can be a daunting prospect. Many times, the challenge for us is that we have already determined the desired outcome, and our goal is simply to get them to go along.  This approach often causes friction and leaves the adult child making a decision that is in the ‘best interest’ of their parent; the parent is left with no option but to comply—and they are not happy campers.


It doesn’t have to be that way. An adjustment in our approach to communicating with our parents may provide a mutually workable solution without butting heads. This brief post shares a few ideas that may be helpful.


Begin by taking time to reflect on your parents’ situation and seek to understand what they need. Conduct a little research to understand how seniors in your parents’ situation are impacted in the long run based on the different choices available. Also, it would be good to have a few stories about seniors choosing similar care that are relatable to your parents. These stories can be helpful as your conversation progresses.


Don’t ambush your parent with this conversation. Ahead of time, indicate that you have some concerns that you’d like to talk about. Give them a sense of what the conversation will be about, but don’t have the conversation at that time. This approach gives your parent time to think about the issues before you talk. The downside of advance notice is that some individuals can become defensive. If this is the case for your parent, when you meet to talk, take some time to work at lowering the defenses.


When you meet to talk, briefly share your main concerns, but pivot to ask them a series of questions. Your goal here is to understand their perspective, even their fears. These questions should be geared toward understanding their concerns, needs, goals, and fears. A popular communication tool is to repeat to the person, in your own words, what they have just shared. This would be the opportune time in the conversation to do that. Taking this step shows your parent that you care about their perspective and that they have a voice.


Highlight where your concerns and the information they’ve shared overlap. At this point, you are transitioning to seeking the best solution, although you may already have what you believe is the best solution. Even though your roles are now being reversed, and your role now is more like a parent to your parent, don’t be condescending. Don’t speak as if you’ve done all the research and have all the answers.


A good transition statement here is, “based on what you’ve said, here are some options.” At this point, share two or three of the options you’ve researched and ask for their help in creating the best solution. During this stage of the conversation is when resistance can build even if there was none before. Remember, what we are asking our parents to do at this point will be a major life change for them. Be empathetic with them about that.


At this stage is where the stories can be helpful. Stories can show that she’s not the only person to face such a situation, and it also shows how other seniors thrive in the midst of major life changes. In fact, these stores can reinforce that the decisions on the table are a good choice. Stories can accomplish the above better than trying to persuade or coercion.


While no system is 100% foolproof, these ideas can help you have a better conversation with your aging parent.