Dealing with Seagull Syndrome – Part 2

In the first article of this two-part series, elder care coordinator Cindy Hutson, R.N. shared tips for dealing with unsolicited critical comments from friends and family members who are not involved in an elder’s day-to-day care. In this article, we’ll look at how caregivers can develop the emotional ninja skills needed to manage push-back from critics, well-meaning or not. 

One of the best resources is a program called Powerful Tools for Caregivers. Taught by trained facilitators (Cindy is one), this six-week class gives caregivers the skills needed to practice healthy self-care while caring for someone else. Cindy’s firm, Elder Law of East Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee is one of many Life Care Planning Law Firms that offer the course.

The lessons taught in Powerful Tools for Caregivers can be especially effective in dealing with unsolicited advice and criticism. “The class includes a segment on communication skills and practicing ‘I’ statements,” says Cindy. “This is very important when someone is coming at you with complaints. Pointing the finger almost always makes the situation worse.”

The course also offers strategies for family caregivers to help relatives understand what’s truly going on, including the use of the family meeting. “This tactic can be very effective if multiple family members are involved,” Cindy advises. “At the meeting, the primary caregiver might say, ‘Okay. You're opposed to my putting Mom in an assisted living facility, but I can't keep running over to Mom’s house. I've got my full-time job. This is where she needs to go. You all disagree with me. Why don’t we sit down and brainstorm ways to fix this so Mom can be safe?’”

Cindy observes that the denial, shock, and fear family members often feel about the declining health of a parent or other relative can end up being projected as criticism onto to the primary caregiver. “Let’s say that your mom has dementia and you’ve been caring for her at home with no help from your three siblings who live out of town,” explains Cindy. “Things have gotten to the point where your mom isn’t safe at home anymore and needs to be placed. You have her healthcare power of attorney and you’ve decided that a nursing home is the right option. You then discover that your siblings are angry at you for taking this step. This reaction from family members is very common.”

The Powerful Tools for Caregivers class gives people the tools, the words, and the conviction to stand up to critical relatives and advocate for their own needs in the process. One of Cindy’s clients was receiving constant criticism from her siblings, but nobody was willing to help. After the client attended the Powerful Tools for Caregivers class, began using “I” statements, and learned to be very specific about the assistance she needed, things shifted. Help materialized and the criticism stopped. “Months later, she is still raving about how much she learned from the class,” Cindy adds. “It's so exciting to watch caregivers come into their own and it’s rewarding to see people learn how to stand up to those who are making things harder even though they think they're helping.”

To learn more about the Powerful Tools for Caregivers course or to find a class near you, visit or contact your local Life Care Planning Law Firm.