We all know that we should help support our ageing parents and anyone around us that might be struggling, and ask RUOK? But how do we make sure we’re ready for the conversation? How are we taking care of ourselves as we support others?
Thursday 8 September is RUOK day, a day where all Australians are urged to spend more time catching up with friends, chatting on the phone with family, or visiting elderly relatives and have meaningful conversations. To help prepare for the conversations, we look at some tips for taking care of ourselves as we ask RUOK?
You might want to ask your parent if they are OK, but also consider asking other friends and family who are caring for their ageing parents. They may be relieved to share their stories with you. Just getting it off your chest and having a sounding board can sometimes work wonders.
You don’t have to wait until RUOK day to ask someone if they are OK. It’s important to use these tips all year round.
Before initiating a conversation
Before initiating a conversation and asking if you’re OK, the RUOK website suggests to ask yourself:
Am I ready?
- Am I in a good head space?
- Am I willing to genuinely listen?
- Can I give as much time as needed?
Am I prepared?
- Do I understand that if I ask how someone’s going, the answer could be: “No, I’m not”?
- Do I understand that you can’t ‘fix’ someone’s problems?
- Do I accept that they might not be ready to talk? Or they might not want to talk to me?
- Do I understand that if someone is talking about personal struggles, this can be difficult and they might get emotional, embarrassed or upset? Am I ready for that?
Have I picked my moment?
- Have I chosen somewhere relatively private and comfy?
- Have I figured out a time that will be good for them to chat?
- Have I made sure I have enough time to chat properly?
Having the conversation
When it’s time to have the conversation, the experts at RUOK suggest the following four steps:
- Listen without judgement
- Encourage action
- Check in
1. Ask are you ok?
- Be relaxed
- Help them open up by asking questions like “How are you going?” or “What’s been happening?” or “I’ve noticed that you’re not quite yourself lately. How are you travelling?”
- Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “I’ve noticed that you seem really tired recently” or “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?”
2. Listen without judgement
- Take what they say seriously
- Don’t interrupt or rush the conversation
- If they need time to think, try and sit patiently with the silence
- Encourage them to explain
- If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally
- Let them know you’re asking because you’re concerned
- Ask “How are you feeling about that?” or “How long have you felt that way?”
- Show that you’ve listened by checking that you’ve understood. You could say, “It sounds like you’re missing your friends and you’re feeling lonely.”
If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally. Let them know you’re asking because you care and acknowledge that times seem tough for them
3. Encourage action
- Help them think about one or two things that can be done to better manage the situation. It might be they take some time out for themselves or do something that’s fun or relaxing.
- Ask “What can I do to help you get through this?” or “How would you like me to support you?”
- If you’ve found a particular strategy or health service useful, share it with them. You can say something like: “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this… You might find it useful too.”
- If necessary, encourage them to see a doctor or other professional. This is particularly important if they’ve been feeling really down for more than two weeks. You could say, “It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I’m happy to assist you to find right person to talk to.”
- Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times, but understand that it may take a bit of time to find the right one.
4. Follow up
- Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they’re really struggling, check in with them sooner.
- Say something like, “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.”
- Ask if they’ve found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. They might just need someone to listen to them for the moment.
- You could ask, “Do you think it would be useful if we looked into finding some professional or other support?”
- Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional.
- We can’t rush this or force someone to seek support. Instead, remain optimistic about the benefits of getting help and try not to judge them.
- Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.
Take care of yourself
It’s important that you also look after yourself so be sure to:
- Make sure you’re ready to take on the conversation using the questions above. If you’re not, then don’t start the conversation.
- Feel free to share your own stories with other carers so you feel you’re not alone.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat well.
Some useful links:
Photo credit: Grandmother, love, friendship by Mimi from Pixabay