Article Series

Coping with Caregiving Communication

Article submitted by Rebecca Sharp Colmer: Eldercare Advocate, Author, Publisher, Speaker. Find Rebecca’s books online.
The Gift of Caregiving – Click Here
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Many people may find themselves being parent, child, employee, spouse and caregiver at the same time. They have to meet the expectations of a diverse set of role partners. Often times successful performance in one role may be at the expense of poor performance in other roles.

Not only do caregivers have competing roles, but they may also experience changes in expectations stemming from family roles that were established early on. Because the changes are so gradual, over time, they are not always recognized.

In many situations, role expectations are not clear, or people do not agree about what is expected. Conflicts can develop unless new roles and rules are defined and expectations are clarified within the individual and within the family.

Caregivers must be careful that they do not lose control over their own lives while caring for someone else.

In general, caregivers can best cope through the recognition and owning of feelings and learning to effectively communicate.

Communication goes on in many ways: exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing or behavior. It is no surprise that most families develop a special and unique communications style. When we talk to our family members, not only do we search for signs of love, but we also look for signs of disapproval. When families come together for making decisions about the care of their parent, they may need to develop or reframe their communication skills.

Here are five ways to improve family communications:

  1. Realize the family is a hierarchical institution. There is power of a parent over a child, of an older brother or sister over a younger one. There are shifting alliances between siblings.

    As the parent ages, there is a reversal of the roles of helper and helped, and this can be disconcerting. Strive to find the balance so that one person’s needs do not impinge on the other’s actions.
  2. Understand the power of being a good listener. Whether you are the caregiver or care-receiver, in most families we want someone to listen to us and to really understand what we are thinking, understanding, and saying.

    It is not unusual for family members to realize they have never really known very much about real feelings and values of each other. When we concentrate more on listening attentively, our relationships improve, and so do our communications.
  3. Learn to be a good speaker who can clearly express ideas and feelings AND help the listener to hear the message. You can improve your odds of getting your message across if you use “I” statements rather than “You” statements.

    A family member is more likely to continue conversation if you say, “ I feel upset when you _________” instead of “you make me upset when you _____________”.
  4. Become a problem solver. This doesn’t mean just coming up with the answer, it also means finding a solution. Be realistic in your expectations. Allow siblings to help in ways they are able. Keep them informed and included in the caregiving process.
  5. Show appreciation and gratitude. Human nature tells us that people respond favorably to those who show them genuine appreciation and gratitude. Just a simple thank you or “I’m sorry” can go a long way. Make a decision to make a positive impact on those around you.

The caregiving role can be very demanding. It is important to remember even with conscious efforts taken to care for your physical and emotional needs, caregivers can experience excessive stress as you attend to your daily tasks. Learn to be a good communicator.

Posted February 2013 on