Things You Should Never Say To Your Aging Parents

Things You Should Never Say To Your Aging Parents

Navigating relationships with aging parents is complex. You want to help, but also respect their independence. It’s easy to accidentally say things that come across as being insensitive, even when you mean well. Before you open your mouth, take a deep breath! Here are some well-intentioned phrases that actually do more harm than good, and what to try instead.

1. “You shouldn’t drive anymore.”

Losing independence is hard, as research from the National Institutes of Health has shown time and time again. Instead of bluntly taking away the car keys, focus on safety. Offer alternative transport (ride-shares, senior transport services), talk about specific concerns, or suggest a driving assessment for peace of mind. Frame it as supporting their continued mobility, not just taking something away. Let them know you’re in this together and want to find the best solution that works for everyone.

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2. “It’s time for assisted living.”

mom and dad talking to adult kids

No one wants to be told where they have to live. If truly necessary, start with smaller steps. Can a housekeeper, meal delivery, or home modifications help them stay independent longer? Frame it as being proactive, not punitive. Emphasize making choices that ensure their comfort and safety, while still respecting their autonomy as much as possible.

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3. “You don’t remember things like you used to.”

Happy family, portrait or bonding hug and senior parents, mother or father in nature park, home backyard or house garden. Smile, man or retirement elderly in embrace profile picture, love or support

Memory lapses are frustrating for them too! Instead of highlighting their deficits, try gentle redirections. Instead of “You already told me that!” say “I love hearing that story.” Focus on connecting, not making them feel self-conscious. Sometimes, repetition is their way of reliving happy moments; join them in that joy, even if you’ve heard the story before.

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4. “Are you sure you should be eating that?”

Shot of a mature man and his elderly father having coffee and a chat at home

Don’t become the food police. As we age, simple pleasures become more important. Focus on overall healthy eating, but allow occasional treats. If weight or health is a major concern, consult their doctor first for a respectful approach. Shaming them about their food choices just makes mealtimes less enjoyable for everyone.

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5. “Why don’t you get out more?”

Isolation in seniors is a real problem, the CDC notes, but this phrasing feels blaming. Instead of nagging, offer specific options enjoyable to them. A walk together, a trip to a place they love, or inviting them to join your activities can feel more supportive. Maybe, they’re not getting out because they have mobility issues, or feel anxious in crowds… try to address the underlying reason first.

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6. “You did things so differently when I was a kid…”

Unsolicited parenting advice never feels good, even as roles shift. If you have genuine concerns about grandkids, try respectful questions instead of pronouncements. “Is bath time before bed tough? We found [technique] helpful, want to try?” Or, offer assistance without criticism: “Want me to take the kids to the park so you can have some downtime?”.

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7. “Mom/Dad, you’re going to fall!”

While well-intentioned, this highlights their fragility and can increase anxiety. Offer solutions instead of warnings: “Let’s get you some non-slip socks” or “Could a grab bar here be helpful?” Pointing out potential hazards can feel like nagging if you don’t also offer tangible ways to make things safer.

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8. “But you look so good!”

Downplaying how they feel physically is dismissive. Looks don’t always reflect the aches, pains, or energy limitations that come with age. Empathize instead: “Sounds like a tough day, want to relax and watch something together?” Focusing on their emotional well-being shows you truly care, not just about superficial appearances.

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9. “You’re repeating yourself.”

It’s embarrassing for them when they realize this. Gently redirect the conversation without making them feel bad. If it’s a favorite story, indulge them – listening shows you care, more than repetition matters. If it’s a simple question they asked before, answer again patiently, like it’s the first time.

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10. “Let me do that for you.”

Helping is good, but over-helping robs them of autonomy. See if they can do it with minor assistance, or if there’s a way to modify the task so they can do it independently. Feeling capable boosts their sense of self-worth. Maybe they struggle with buttons – look for clothes with Velcro instead of completely taking over dressing. Small adjustments maintain their dignity.

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11. “Back in my day…”

Shutterstock

Lecturing them on how things were decades ago is dismissive of the challenges they face NOW. Offer to listen and learn about their experiences instead of unsolicited reminiscing about yours. Maybe they’re commenting on how expensive things are – instead of talking about how cheap something was when you were young, ask what it was like budgeting with limited income back then.

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12. “I don’t have time for this right now.”

Your life is busy, but try not to make them feel like a burden. Carve out time for dedicated visits or quality conversation. If rushed, explain gently and schedule a time when you can be fully present. Even short, focused visits are better than making them feel like an afterthought squeezed into your schedule.

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13. “Why are you always so grumpy?”

Aging brings physical and emotional challenges. Instead of judging their mood, try to understand the cause. Are they in pain? Lonely? Resolving the underlying issue is more productive than criticizing their personality. If they seem irritable, ask “Is something bothering you?” or simply offer companionship without expecting them to be cheerful.

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14. Speaking about them as if they’re not there.

Even if they seem unresponsive, don’t talk over their head to others as if invisible. Include them in conversations whenever possible – their understanding might be greater than you realize. Treat them with the same respect you’d give anyone else, regardless of their ability to fully participate at that moment.

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15. “Don’t worry about that.”

Minimizing a concern that feels big to them is disrespectful. Acknowledge their worry and offer to help them find solutions, even if the problem seems small to you. Maybe they’re fretting over a bill – you could check if they qualify for senior discounts they don’t know about. Validating their concerns means more than simply dismissing them.

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16. Reminding them constantly of their age.

man talking to his dad

They’re aware of getting older, no need to constantly point it out! Calling them “old man/lady” (even jokingly) can feel insensitive. Focus on who they are as a person, not solely their age. Celebrate milestones like birthdays, but don’t reduce them to just a number.

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17. Losing your patience.

It’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes! But taking it out on them is unfair. Step away, take a deep breath, and find resources for caregiver support (support groups, respite care) when you’re overwhelmed. Remember, they’re likely frustrated with the limitations of aging too – a little compassion from you goes a long way.

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Sinead Cafferty is a writer who has authored four collections of poetry: "Dust Settling" (2012); "The Space Between" (2014); "Under, Under, Over" (2016); and "What You Can't Have" (2020). She's currently working on her first novel, a dystopian romance set in the 22nd Century, that's due out in 2024.

Sinead has an MFA in creative writing from NYU and has had residencies with the Vermont Studio Center and the National Center for Writing.
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