Six tips for care professionals on handling difficult families

A Place for Mom ( has a Senior Living Blog.  In a post last month, someone noted that senior care professionals often handle difficult patients but sometimes the families can be even more difficult.  Six tips were shared:

1. “Work on Your Perspective” – view the upset family member as an ally.

2.  “Practice Your Soft Skills” – ask gentle questions to clarify the family member’s concerns.

3.  “Be Professional” – state your points firmly and calmly, or ask a colleague to step in.

4.  “Set Boundaries” – if someone is yelling at you, tell them you need to leave if they continue yelling.

5. “Don’t Get Hooked” – keep communication brief and let the family member know how much time you are able to talk.

6. “Keep Families Involved” – good communication with family members is invaluable.

The post is copied below.



Handling Difficult Families
Senior Living Blog on
By Katherine O’Brien
July 28, 2016

We’ve all had difficult patients, but sometimes it’s not the patients, but the families who will give you grief.

6 Tips for Handling Difficult Families

Before you lose your cool with the argumentative daughter, opinionated son or the partner who regularly makes a scene, have a glance at our six tips for dealing with challenging family members.

1. Work on Your Perspective

First off, when dealing with unpleasant family members, don’t waste energy trying to change their behavior; instead, strive to change something that is in your control, namely, your own attitude. Look past a caregiver’s demands and confrontational manner so that you can muster up some empathy. (Imagine how you would feel if your mother and father were incapacitated or in pain.) And try to view adult children as allies, rather than adversaries; after all, you do both want the best for their parent.

2. Practice Your Soft Skills

When a caregiver is upset rather than attacking it pays to take the time to actively listen to their concerns. Sometimes they just need to vent, and your hearing them out might relieve some of their anxiety. Even if that’s not the case, if you can, stop what you are doing so that you can be fully present, listening to what they are saying, instead of thinking about how to respond. You should also reflect back what you heard them say in your own words, then ask gentle, probing questions to clarify their concerns and get to the root of their problem. Sometimes, you’ll discover that the issue they appear to be upset by (Dad being dressed in sweats instead of “regular” pants) is not their real concern. They might be feeling helpless over their father’s situation or feel that that the residence is not relaying information in a timely manner.

3. Be Professional

If a family member is attacking rather than upset, know that their tantrum might have little to do with anything you have done and a lot to do with their fear or anger. So, instead of defending yourself or engaging in an argument, try to emotionally detach, stating your points firmly and calmly, while maintaining open body language (don’t cross your arms when facing them, for instance). If you are too emotionally triggered to do this, take some deep breaths, which can aid in calming you down. It’s better to leave the room, at least momentarily, than to fight back. In some cases, it might help defuse the situation if a colleague steps in and takes over.

4. Set Boundaries

Remember that listening to verbal abuse is not in anyone’s job description. If a relative yells at you, for example, ask them to stop, letting them know that you will leave the room if their behavior does not change. (Don’t forget to report and document this behavior.)

5. Don’t Get Hooked

Also, along the lines of setting boundaries, avoid getting into long, unproductive conversations with someone who is argumentative. Instead, keep the communication brief and to the point, letting the caregiver know the amount of time you have available to talk. If they are pelleting you with questions at a time when you have a lot on the go, ask them to write their questions down so that you can answer them in one shot when you’re available.

6. Keep Families Involved

It’s not always easy to coordinate care plan conferences with family members who live out of town or who work in the daytime, but don’t let this be an excuse for carrying on without their participation. Instead, find a time that works for them and ask them to join the meeting via phone or secure video chat. On top of this, make sure that they are always kept in the loop about any changes in their parent’s condition or in the treatment plan. Remember, good communication can go a long way.