Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Helping Aging Parents: From Resistance to "On Board"

Four Words That Can Change Resistance to Compliance
"I need your help." These four words are powerful. They can do more to help aging parents do what's best and what's right than any other phrase I know. I learned the value of this phrase from a counseling colleague and have used it successfully in my counseling with temporarily irrational parents, difficult kids, and seemingly inflexible teachers and administrators.

And I've used it with strangers--to untangle airline reservations, to speak with a supervisor when all else was failing, and with family and friends-- when appropriate. I use this phrase only when I do need help. It has never disappointed.

"Why?" you ask. "And where does helping aging parents fit in?

Let's elaborate. When you say to someone "I need your help," the implied message is that the person you're speaking to is capable and that's flattering. People rarely turn down that simple request. (Contrast that with "can you help me?" Notice how it allows for refusal?)

"I need your help" also psychologically pulls the other person into your space giving him or her a vested interest in helping to resolve the problem. You've appealed to his or her ego (self-esteem) by admitting you need his or her help. This makes aging parents feel good and clearly not threatened, providing a nice way to begin a potentially difficult conversation. You and they become partners in solving the problem.

I don't believe we are our parents' parents...not until our parents ask us to take over or we know from a doctor that they are no longer capable of decision-making. So when adult children say "I need your help" to an aging parent, the mere statement is respectful and affirming.

"I need your help" is as applicable to the big issues, like driving or changing living arrangements, as it is to the smaller ones; but if we overuse it, it loses its effect--as we undoubtedly know. Parents don't like being talked down to, lectured to, or being told--point blank--what to do. "I need your help" is a good way to begin a thorny conversation. And I stress "begin." When you begin any other way, it dilutes what you're trying to accomplish.

So try the "I need your help" statement especially in a situation that you think parents may initially reject or resist, even though it's for their own good. When adult children can help their aging parents to buy into a solution, it's better for everyone--and sometimes generates worthwhile ideas no one thought of before. And when an adult child, who's trying to help aging parents, begins by admitting he or she needs their help, shouldn't the collaboration have a better chance for success?

PS. When life and limb are involved and parents are resistant, a parent's physician is often in the best position to makes suggestion, if "I need you help" should fail.

No comments:

Post a Comment