The Art of Dealing With Negative Elderly Parents [With Examples & Causes] 

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Updated:

It's exhausting having elderly parents who are negative and seem to complain all the time. But with patience and understanding plus these tried and tested coping mechanisms, you can improve the situation. Here are several techniques for dealing with negative elderly parents that you can begin using today.

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Negativity among older adults is unfortunately common. Identifying these behaviors and understanding the causes behind them are critical first steps. While it can be difficult to deal with chronic complainers or rude and disrespectful behavior, with some patience and understanding, the good news is that it is possible to improve the situation.

Examples of Negative Behaviors From Aging Parents

Dealing with elderly parents who are negative and seem to complain all the time, can be frustrating… and exhausting. Here are a few examples of the most common negative behaviors along with some ways to cope.

Constant Complaining

Many elderly individuals find it difficult to adjust to age-related changes in their lives. This can lead to constant complaining and a negative attitude towards life.

It is important to remember that this is a natural reaction and that there is nothing wrong with feeling sad or upset. Offer support and understanding, and to try to avoid getting angry.

If the complaining becomes too much, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Hire a professional caregiver or some temporary respite care to help out.

Rudeness and Disrespect

Often elderly parents will become rude and disrespectful if they feel their children are not respecting them or their opinions. If this is the case, remember that your elders are human and may be feeling a bit frustrated. Try listening for the motivations behind their language.

Refusing Help

Seniors and the elderly may often need help with even simple tasks but are unwilling to accept that help. One strategy to deal with this is to offer help in a way that the elder can understand.

For example, if an elder complains that they cannot do something, try to explain why it is necessary to hire someone to help them. And, how it will benefit them personally.

Being a Nag

Elderly parents can act out by nagging their adult children or insisting on having their way. This can be a difficult habit to break, but it is important to remember that elders are entitled to their own opinions and feelings. It may be necessary to set boundaries and tell the negative parent that you will no longer be treated this way.

Withholding Affection

Older people will sometimes withhold affection as a way of asserting their authority. Remember that this behavior is not always intentional and that elders may simply be feeling overwhelmed. Try to be patient and understanding, and offer affection towards them when it is appropriate.

Being a Hypochondriac

There’s no one right way to deal with a hypochondriac parent. It can take a while for a hypochondriac to figure out that their symptoms are just in their head. A hypochondriac parent may be hypersensitive to any kind of criticism or doubt, so try not to react defensively.

If there’s something you can do to help your hypochondriac parent feel better in the meantime, do it.

Being Disorganized and Messy

Being disorganized and messy can be frustrating for anyone. However, it can be especially frustrating for a home caregiver who is caring for an elderly parent. It can be difficult to keep up with a clean house when your parents are constantly leaving their messes all over the place plus have to take care of your duties as the primary caregiver.

Depression and Loneliness

Loneliness and depression are common problems among the elderly. However, it’s important to remember that not every elderly person with depression or loneliness is in need of professional help.

Sometimes all they need is some understanding and support. Offer your negative elderly parent your support and listen to them when they talk about their feelings.

Gossiping and Slandering Others

Negative gossiping and slandering others can have devastating consequences. It can damage relationships, lead to social isolation, and even cause physical harm.

Be aware of the consequences of gossiping and slandering, and to avoid doing it whenever possible. Set the example and refuse to participate in these discussions.

Having Unreasonable Expectations

Parents notoriously set unrealistic expectations for their children and elderly parents are no different. It’s important to remember that they may have been raised in a different era, where things were done a certain way and there was more support available.

As the children of this generation grow older, they may start to expect more from life than their own parents were able to experience. Be patient and understanding, but also firm in setting boundaries.

Identifying the root causes behind an elder’s behavior and acting out can lead to a better coping mechanisms and more positive relationships.

What Are Some Common Causes of Negativity Among Older Adults?

Now that you know more about the typical negative behavioral changes exhibited by elderly parents, it’s important to learn to identify the underlying cause of these behaviors.

There are many causes of negativity among older adults. But, some of the most common reasons are:

Loneliness and Social Isolation 

As we get older, our social circles tend to shrink. We no longer participate in many of the social events that made us happy in the past. This can be a result of a number of factors, including health conditions and disabilities, but it can also be a result of unwanted changes in our lives. For some people, this can lead to feelings of social isolation and lack of a peer group.

Loneliness is another common problem for elderly people. It can cause mood swings, feelings of sadness, boredom, and even depression or another mental health problem. But, loneliness and social isolation can lead to problems with your physical health too, such as increased rates of illness and even death.

Anguish and Grief from the Past Events

You will have an especially tough time dealing with elderly parents who have experienced a lot of anguish and grief in the past. The difficulty can be compounded when these parents are resistant to any form of help or support.

It can be hard to know how to approach them and navigate through the difficult waters of communication. Older adults who are experiencing anguish and grief may resist any attempts to engage them in conversation or provide support, act out in destructive and harmful ways or even blame others for their problems. They can even experience personality changes if they have had a traumatic past.

Financial Difficulties

When an elderly person has financial difficulties, they begin to worry about their ability to afford basic needs like food and shelter. They stress about a loss of independence which, in turn, can lead to tension and conflict within the family.

Communicating with the elderly parents about their finances can be difficult, but it’s important to maintain a positive, caring, and helpful attitude. If you are helping them manage their finances, keep them in the loop as much as possible.

Difficult Life Experiences That Have Left Them Feeling Bitter and Resentful

Many elderly parents have had difficult life experiences that have left them feeling bitter and resentful. They may have been raised in poverty, endured physical abuse, or been abandoned by their families. This can make it difficult for them to relate to their children and grandchildren, who may appear to them as spoiled and ungrateful.

It can be hard for them to accept compliments or constructive criticism, and they may become angry and hostile when things don’t go their way. In order to cope with these difficult life experiences, elderly parents may need support from family members and friends.

Fear of Aging and Death

It is no secret that fear of aging and death is a common fear among many people. The aging process often brings numerous medical problems with it such as chronic pain, cognitive decline, memory loss, and even Alzheimer’s disease for some.

They may have to take a hand full of prescription medications which often have side effects. Even a basic medical problem like a urinary tract infection can cause a temporary mental decline, agitation, and significant behavioral changes.

The thought that we will one day no longer be around can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress. Some people may feel especially anxious themselves about their elderly parents dying. They may feel responsible for taking care of them.

It can be difficult to deal with this fear, but it is important to remember that our difficult parents are still people with feelings and emotions. They may need our support and understanding, rather than our fear.

Inability to Cope with Change or New Situations

Some elderly parents may find it difficult to cope with change or new daily routines. This can be a result of a lack of coping skills, cognitive problems, or a combination of both. If the elderly parent is unable to cope with change, it can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.

This can have a negative impact on their physical health and even lead to mental health issues too and degraded relationships with their children. Family caregivers should work together to provide support and assistance to the negative parent in order to ensure they are able to cope with change and maintain a positive relationship with their children.

Difficult Relationships with Children or Grandchildren

Many grandparents have a difficult time relating to their grandchildren. Grandparents may be too old to understand what the grandchildren are going through, or they may be critical of the children’s lives. Grandchildren may not think their grandparents are “cool” and not be willing to invest the amount of time it takes to understand them.

This can lead to tension and conflict between the grandchildren and their grandparents. But, one day it will be too late to rectify the situation so it should be dealt with immediately.

loving daughter and elderly mother (1)
Finding positive ways to deal with negative elderly parents can lead to restored relationships, reduce family conflicts, and peace.

8 Techniques for Dealing With Negative Elderly Parents

It’s never easy dealing with negative elderly parents. It will probably be a difficult process but with the following coping mechanisms, it can be done.

Here are some tactics to try:

1. Understand The Reasoning

Negative elderly parents can be a challenge to deal with, but understanding their reasoning can make the process easier to deal with.

Many elderly individuals often have a lot of regrets and may feel like they’ve failed in their lives. They may also be bitter and resentful of their children. These negative emotions can make it difficult for parents to communicate with their children, and can lead to conflict.

However, it’s important to make sure that negative elderly parents still feel loved and cared for. By understanding their reasoning, you can work to build a better relationship with them.

2. Set Boundaries And Stick To Them

It’s important to set boundaries with your elderly parents and make sure they understand what is acceptable and what is not. Explain this to them calmly and rationally.

They may initially act out but will often take it to heart later once they have processed your request. This could help keep them from overstepping your boundaries and causing you stress in the future.

This part is even harder. Once you set limits, enforce them. If your elderly parents continue to act out, it may be necessary to take action, such as leaving the home or contacting social services. Be firm but fair in your dealings with your elderly parents, and be prepared to stick to your boundaries.

3. Be Patient and Slow to React

It is critical that you are patient and slow to react to the bad behavior. Try to understand their reasons for being negative and try to respond in a way that is respectful and helpful.

If you are able to do this, you will likely be able to improve your relationship with your elderly parent which, in itself, will lead to less negativity.

4. Don’t Take It Personally 

Negative elderly parents can be rude and even hurtful in their language, but don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault, and you can’t change them.

Just remember that you’re not alone.

There are plenty of other adult children out there who are also struggling to deal with their negative behavior. Seek out people in the same situation through support groups whether in person or in online groups.

5. Try To Minimize Conflict 

Try to minimize conflict with elderly parents. This is because they may be more likely to become agitated and upset if there is a lot of conflict. They may feel that they may have experienced a lot of stress in their lives, and may not be able to handle much more.

Be patient and understanding with them, don’t antagonize them, and to try to find common ground.

6. Seek Outside Support 

It is important to remember that you are not alone in your struggles with elderly parents. There are many people out there who can offer support and advice.

Make a phone call to a close friend of your parent and get their input. It may be helpful to seek out outside help from your parent’s doctor, a professional counselor, social worker, or family therapist. If you need a neutral third party, seek out a geriatric care manager in your area.

These professionals can help you to understand your parent’s negativity better, and may be able to provide you with strategies for dealing with them effectively. There are numerous Facebook groups that offer support an assistance in an anonymous online format.

7. Don’t Bottle Things Up 

It can be tough when you’re dealing with elderly parents who are negative and difficult to please. Sometimes it’s tempting to bottle things up and try to ignore the negative comments, but this can only lead to more frustration.

Instead, try to be understanding which is often the best way to work together peacefully. Find ways to blow off the steam while away from your parent. If the elderly parent is unwilling or unable to change or begins showing abusive behavior, then you may need to consider seeking professional help.

8. Don’t Give In To Negativity 

Finally, don’t give in to their negativity by letting loose your own emotional responses. Recognize that their negativity is a way of coping themselves. Elderly parents may be feeling overwhelmed and stressed, and their negative attitude is a way of dealing with the situation.

Don’t take the bait. If your elderly mother or father starts to criticize you or your family, don’t get defensive. Instead, calmly explain why you think the decision you made was the best one and why you believe it will benefit your family.

Wrapping Up

With a bit of effort, you can help your negative elderly parents become more positive and restore good relationships. It is important to be patient and try to identify the root cause of the behavior and address it. Find ways to bring out the positive changes in them. Accept their negativity as a way of coping. Don’t take the bait. 

And, the best thing? Don’t give up on them. They didn’t give up on you when you were acting out as a teenager, right?

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

Scott Grant has spent more than 20 years serving seniors and the elderly in the home medical equipment industry. He has worked as a manufacturer's rep for the top medical equipment companies and a custom wheelchair specialist at a durable medical equipment (DME) provider in WV. He is father to 4 beautiful daughters and has three terrific grandkids. When not promoting better living for older adults, he enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking and early morning runs.

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