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Family Communication

Common Issues, Aging and Mental Health (courtesy of The Center for Aging and Life Change)

I. Elements of good communication
II. Communication between generations
III. Communication between adult siblings
IV. Practical considerations with frail elders

I. Elements of good communication

In the delicate balance of communicating with family, particularly about the needs of failing parents, honesty is sometimes a difficult strategy to trust.

    • We may feel guilty about what we are really thinking and feeling.
    • Family rules of etiquette may prize ‘courtesy’ and ‘sensitivity’ over truth.
    • We run the risk of looking like the ‘bad’ kid if we don’t agree with the party line.
    • As outsiders - in-laws, stepchildren - we may feel we do not have the right to speak our mind.

But if the elephant is making a mess in the living room, little is to be gained by pretending it is not there. Older folks may look frail, but most can hear the truth, spoken with kindness and genuine concern, without falling apart. In fact sometimes parents can hear it better than siblings.

Honesty means not only sharing true concerns, thoughts, feelings, it also means not saying what you do not mean, not promising what you cannot deliver. If your only motive for a particular communication is to keep the peace or to keep someone from becoming upset, then you are probably not being honest.

Active listening
Make sure you hear the intended message and not what you expect or want to hear.

Let the person you are talking to know you heard what was intended - that you were indeed listening and that you understood their meaning.

If you think that a communication is intended to convey more than the words themselves, check it out. Making too much out of a message can be as harmful as making too little.

Reinforce positive aspects of a communication. Acknowledge common ground , points well taken, insightful observations. Accept and respect different points of view and all genuine feelings.

Identify and focus on what is important now.

    • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    • Avoid bringing up unpleasant history.
    • Avoid drama.

"I" messages
Speak from your own heart - "I worry that you are not safe here alone" instead of "You need to move to a safer place".

"I" turns to "You" out of a sense of frustration, helplessness, guilt, panic. If this is happening to you, deal with those feelings honestly and openly.

Address the good spirit that resides in each of us.
Speak to the best in a person.


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Charissa Richter
Charissa Richter
Northern Colorado Therapy Services
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