Holidays can be times of sadness for your elderly parents or other loved ones, especially if they've recently lost a spouse or downsized out of their long-time homes. Additionally, all the hoopla, travel and coordination involved with staging family get-togethers can be physically and emotionally exhausting for older family members.
For both reasons, elderly relatives can sometimes be difficult to deal with during holiday events. Remember, too, that sometimes holiday beverages — you know the ones we mean — interact poorly with some medications that seniors commonly take. Give a little extra leeway if your dad or mom has had a bit too much.
Tell each of your family members why
you’re glad they’re sharing the holiday with you.
Find something to compliment them on.
There are ways to mitigate holiday turmoil and to help your older family members enjoy themselves during this time. Today, let’s examine some of strategies family experts recommend to make the most out of the holidays:
Accentuate the positive
It’s not just a clever show tune lyric! If you notice older family members who seem upset or sad, engage them in conversation. Bring up past events that you know they’ll find it pleasant to remember. Ask them to tell you about their childhoods, or to share their memories of family members that passed before you were born. Many seniors perk up when they feel like they have something positive to share.
If that doesn’t work, play up the present. Be a freewheeling spender when it comes to giving out handshakes, hugs and kisses. Positive physical contact causes the human body to release the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin. A few well-timed hugs can go a long way to improving the collective mood in the room!
Tell each of your family members why you’re glad they’re sharing the holiday with you. Find something to compliment them on.
And don’t be afraid to play Tiny Tim. Raise a glass to the fact that you’re all gathered together. Note what you’re personally thankful for this year.
You get to spend the holiday together, which is more than some other families — who are separated by distance, by military or community service or by circumstance — will enjoy this season.
When an elder criticizes you, or says or does something you don’t agree with during your holiday gathering, be careful how you respond.
Exasperated looks, sharp rebukes, or avoidances won’t stop them from continuing their poor behaviors — they’re more likely to cause your older parent or relative to dig his or her heels in and magnify those behaviors. Minor conflicts can then escalate quickly.
Instead of reacting, respond thoughtfully. Think about whether the behavior is egregious enough to warrant a response, or whether employing a simple subject change or diversionary tactic could effectively defuse the tension.
If you do choose to respond, remember that you’re not going to win hearts and minds outright. Be rational and measured in your response, but avoid lecturing or chastising your relative.
Instead, if your feelings were truly hurt, or something said or done was truly unacceptable in your home, mention how those words or the action made you feel and ask your elder to help you enjoy the holiday by not repeating it.
Get the games going!
It’s hard to argue if everyone is having fun, playing a game that everyone enjoys. Try to pick a game with a funny or creative angle.
Scattergories is one of our favorites — any point disputes are settled by vote, but the rules are pretty loose, so arguments over gameplay aren’t common. Yahtzee and Uno are good family games, too, because a lot of people can play and most of the scoring comes through random luck.
Games also give your elderly relatives something immediate to focus on, so if they did arrive to your holiday gathering feeling sad or depressed, they won’t have to dwell on their thoughts. They can just relax and have fun with the family.
Thanksgiving dinner should be a time to enjoy each other’s company.
if you have a difficult older relative, or an aging parent who is unusually stressed or sad during the holiday, use the tips above to help lighten his or her mood and refocus attention on the spirit of the holidays!