Tips for Difficult Family Conversations

There’s nothing better than sitting around the kitchen table with those you love the most, reminiscing about the time Aunt Sally dropped the Thanksgiving turkey right onto Grandma’s lap, that incredible family vacation in Hawaii, or the day little Charlie hid a live toad in the china cabinet. But when the conversation turns to something controversial, like the possibility that an elderly parent might need to consider a different living arrangement or giving up the car keys, that feeling of camaraderie can become one of defensiveness instead.

When a difficult family conversation needs to take place, these tips can help ensure a more successful outcome, and less hurt feelings:

  • Ensure your concerns are valid. Observe for yourself whether an elderly loved one truly is struggling in a particular area, rather than relying on hearsay.
  • Maintain a tone of caring support. Confrontational negativity will reap a far different result than an approach laced with love and concern.
  • Use reflective listening techniques. Rephrasing what you’ve heard a loved one say confirms that you were listening and validates his or her feelings.
  • Allow a dialogue. Rather than just stating your concerns, invite the senior to share his or her input and observations, and incorporate his or her desires, provided they do not compromise safety.
  • Include others. A particular friend, family or clergy member can help mediate the discussion and provide a more trusted perspective in the eyes of your loved one.

Learn more family conversation strategies, courtesy of AARP.