Ways To Encourage Family Communication

Ways To Encourage Family Communication

Solutions that encourage family discussions include:

  • Considering feelings
  • Creating openings
  • Starting small
  • Having family discussions

Considering Feelings

Before starting a family discussion, ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to talk about this?
  • What do I hope happens when we talk about it?
  • What do I know? What don't I know? What might I be assuming?
  • How will I respond if others become sad, angry or defensive?
  • If I become sad, angry or defensive, how will I handle my feelings?
  • Am I trying to convince others to do what I think is best? Am I open to other possibilities?

Think about previous family discussions.

  • What did you talk about? What topics did you avoid?
  • Who started those discussions? How?
  • Who took part?
  • Did you speak up? Why or why not?
  • Did you feel listened to? Why or why not?

Try to do what worked well before. It can help to:

  • Meet in a quiet, comfortable space
  • Find a time when family members won't feel rushed
  • Set ground rules, like "We will take turns speaking" or "We will share concerns without blaming or attacking others"
  • Ask open-ended questions, like "What is most important to you?"
  • Focus on understanding others
  • Don't jump to conclusions or rush to make decisions

Keep in mind that many older adults worry about losing control over their lives and becoming a burden to others. Many younger family members worry about the older adult's safety but aren't sure how to help.

Creating Openings

Think about different ways to start a discussion. You might bring up:

  • Friends' or family members' experiences
  • Experts' suggestions
  • Questions you have
  • Facts you've learned
  • Plans you're making
  • Topics in the news

For example: "I'm looking into having legal documents drawn up. Do you have will or power of attorney documents?"

Don't wait for the "perfect" opening. Don't worry if it feels awkward. Starting conversations early is better for everyone.

Be honest about why you're bringing up a topic. Share your questions and concerns.

Pay close attention to what family members say and how they say it.

Try to understand others' points of view. Ask questions. Be open to new information.

Starting Small

Ease your family into discussions, by:

  • Choosing a topic your family is more comfortable discussing
  • Focusing on that one topic
  • Asking to hear others' thoughts
  • Not trying to make a decision right away
  • Keeping the discussion short
  • Ending by agreeing on next steps

Plan to talk about the topic again later. Don't try to figure out everything at once.

Another way to start small is by talking to one person. You might want to talk first to the older adult, or to a family member who shares your concerns. Bring others into the conversation soon. You don't want anyone feeling left out.

Help your family have positive small discussions. These can make bigger conversations easier.

Having Family Discussions

Suggest regular family check-ins. These discussions can help family members understand the situation and agree on how to support the older adult.

Ask family members:

  • Who will check in: Who does the older adult want there? Who might help make or carry out decisions, including in-laws or step-family?
  • How often to check in: Are the older adult's needs changing? Depending on the situation, you might want to meet as often as every other week, or as occasionally as twice a year.
  • How to check in: Does everyone live close enough to meet in person? If not, would phone meetings or video chats work?
  • What to discuss: Do you need to make decisions or plans, or share new information? At the beginning of each check-in, make a list of what to discuss.
  • How to keep track: Do family members want reminders before check-ins? What about sharing notes on what was discussed afterwards?

Suggest relaxing activities, too, like family dinners or movie nights. Enjoying time together can reduce stress.