Responding to negative reactions during family discussions

Discussions about helping older family members can bring up strong emotions.

Some family members might feel overwhelmed or resentful that they're doing too much. Others might feel left out. Old sibling rivalries or bad feelings might affect family dynamics.

If discussions become difficult, encourage family members to be honest. Speak calmly and clearly, using phrases like, "I am concerned" or "My feelings are." Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together to support the older adult.

Focus family discussions around the older adult's needs, wishes and priorities.

Family members might have different ways of thinking or speaking about something.

Discussions can be difficult when:

  • You disagree about whether there is a problem, or what the problem is.

  • You disagree about what's most important. For example, you might want to make the older adult's home safer, while your brother is focused on finances.

  • You disagree about what's a good solution.

  • You use or hear words differently, so you say and mean X, but someone else hears Y.

  • You have different communication or decision-making styles.

  • You want different people included in discussions, or have different interpretations of expert advice.

  • How you respond to each other is shaped by family patterns or social roles.

Listen carefully to what others are saying. Encourage family members to express their thoughts and feelings. Try to build on the information and others' opinions to suggest solutions.

If you can't agree, drop the subject and bring it up again later. To understand the dynamics, ask family members:

  • How do you think our family discussions are going?

  • Are we communicating well? Are some people talking too much? Are others too quiet?

  • What assumptions am I making?

  • Are we treating everyone fairly and recognizing their contributions?

  • What would help our family discussions go better?

If you understand why the last discussion was difficult, you might be able to find a different way to approach the topic next time.