Techniques for Responding to Caregiver Criticism

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Article by 

Taryn Topperwien

As a carer for 8 years, I know how hurtful it is when people criticise you, especially when it comes from family or friends. It always seems to come from those who don’t help with the caring. That’s because, if they knew what was involved, they would better understand. Having said that, it can be very difficult to stay calm, when someone criticises the way you’re going about aspects of caring; however, reacting angrily or getting upset at the moment won’t achieve anything good. In fact, all it will do is add to your stress and make you feel worse. Do not dignify their comment by responding with negativity.

I learned that instead of defending myself, to respond in the opposite spirit by asking them what they would do differently given they have no skin in the game and have no idea of what it takes to care for an elderly loved one.

I want to share 3 different ways to respond calmly to caregiver criticism. The next time someone criticizes something you’ve done or tries to tell you how you “should” be caring for your older adult, take a deep breath and do not react. Count to ten then respond using either one of the following suggestions.

1 Acknowledge their concern and ask for their suggestion

When carers receive criticism from others, it can be difficult to know how to react. Defensive responses are common, but they only lead to arguments and don’t solve anything. A better way to handle criticism is to first acknowledge the concern that the critic has and then ask what they would suggest instead. This shows that you are listening and want to find a solution. Your care recipient may not care about your carer’s opinion, but this response will still surprise them and change the tone of the conversation.

For example

Your sibling says: Why did you choose such an unhealthy lunch for mum? A burger and a soft drink aren’t the best combinations. Are you trying to give her a heart attack?

You could say: I understand what you are saying. However, mums appetite has been really poor lately. She is hardly eating anything at all. Her doctor says that even bad foods are better than not getting enough nutrients. Can you think of other favourites we could offer her?

2 Repeat the criticism back to show how it made you feel

Another way to respond is to calmly repeat the criticism back to show how it made you feel. This can help them understand how their words affected you. However, it’s important to frame it as an “I” statement, rather than coming across as defensive. This also shows that you’re willing to communicate and work through any issues that come up.

Remember, some people don’t think before they speak, and don’t realise that their words might hurt your feelings or come across as critical.

Example 1

Your sibling says: I’m too busy and cannot help.

You could say: It feels like you don’t understand how important my time is to me and that you’re not interested in helping when you visit Dad.

Example 2

Your relative says: The house looks like a mess, compared to what it used to. The kitchen is dirty and the lounge room is dusty and needs a good vacuum. Why aren’t you putting any effort into keeping your mum’s house tidy?

You could say: What you’re doing makes me feel unappreciated. Instead of noticing all the things I do for my mum, it feels like you’re only concerned with what else needs to be done.

3 Stand up for yourself

When criticism is unwarranted, stand up for yourself. Just make sure that you do it politely and calmly. This will make the person saying those things more likely to listen and think twice before speaking like that again.

For example

Your sibling says: It’s apparent that you’re not taking care of mum the way she needs! You don’t even bathe her every day. She deserves to be clean and have a shower every day.

You could say: I’m still taking care of mum. Alzheimer’s disease has caused her to develop a fear of bathing, her doctor said that we only need to do it twice a week. Yet, despite this challenge, her clothes are always clean and she’s healthy, well-fed, and happy due to the love and care I continue to give her.

Conclusion

In the end, you want to educate them because 99% of people’s criticism stems from ignorance. Walk tall and confident in the knowledge that ‘when all gets said and done, more got said than done’. While they talk, you do and that speaks the loudest.

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