As you know from last month\’s column, talking with an aging loved one about thorny topics can be fraught with snags and pitfalls! So thorny, in fact, that many family members will either never try . . . until there\’s a crisis. Or they will try and fail and drop the subject . . . until there\’s a crisis! Since resolving issues is a lot easier before a crisis, here are three more pitfalls (plus a bonus!) to avoid so you can be successful during this prickly time.

PITFALL #1) THINKING IN TERMS OF “PARENTING THE PARENT”

If one of you is the parent, by inference, the other is the child. The problem with that is that it\’s then very easy to start treating and/or talking to your aging loved ones as if they are children – which they will quite rightfully resent. No one likes being condescended to . . . the “verbal pat on the head”. Therefore, rather than approaching a conversation with your aging loved one as “parenting the parent”, approach it as a collaboration. And the key to a successful collaboration with your aging loved one is to create and maintain an “adult/adult” relationship.

PITFALL #2) GETTING SUCKED INTO OLD BEHAVIORS

Years ago, I used to think that my parents house had a “magic threshold” because whenever I crossed the threshold to their house I would revert back to my childhood. My parents knew all the buttons to push and they never failed to get a reaction. People act like children when they are treated like children. People are also treated like children when they act like children so if you want to be treated as an adult, you have to behave like an adult. Therefore, to successfully talk with your parents, identify your “buttons”, stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish and why, and make a conscious decision to modify your own behavior to achieve your goals.

PITFALL #3) NOT LISTENING

Why don\’t family members listen? Maybe they are in a hurry, or they think they already know what their aging loved one is going to say, or they are thinking about their own response, to name a few. However, by listening you get to hear where the other person is coming from and you can learn information that may help you later. Plus, they may just need to talk as a way of convincing themselves or they may be saying yes and if you\’re not listening, you won\’t know that!!! For all these reasons and more, listening is important to you. In addition, your aging loved one already feels like they are losing control, so allowing them to speak is an easy way to allow them some control – and to show respect. In other words, treating them as an adult.

BONUS PITFALL:

PITFALL #4) THINKING YOU CAN MAKE ANYONE WANT TO CHANGE

Bottom line . . . you can\’t. You can\’t with your kids, you can\’t with your spouse and with them you have more leverage! So if you try to make your aging loved one do something, it\’s not surprising you will get the same result. The fact is, what you think someone should do doesn\’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the person making the change wants to make the change. So what do you do? You ask questions – the kind of questions that will help them discover their reason for doing something. The reason may not be your reason or it may be one you never thought of but if their reason works for them and the issue is resolved, then who cares?? (By the way – the same concept works on your kids and your spouse!)

Again, when you\’re working with your aging loved one, an adult/adult relationship will make it a whole lot easier to create a true collaboration!