Caregiving is one of the most significant responsibilities you can have in life. You are in charge of the wellbeing and safety of someone else.
Caregiving might look different depending on who you are looking after and what their unique situation is. However, the path to success looks the same.
If you can master these 10 important caregiver skills, you can be confident that you are well on your way.
Effective Communication Skills
As a caregiver, you are a primary source of information for somebody else. You might find yourself having to understand their medical, financial, or legal information. This material can be complex and confusing. Skills like active listening, asking follow up questions, and practicing clear communication can help make this process easier and ensure the safety and understanding of the person you care for.
· Active Listening: When you actively listen to another person, you want to hear their words and notice their nonverbal clues. Pay attention to their tone, body language, and mood. Check your understanding of the conversation by paraphrasing the information they give you. Staying focused and active in the discussion will prevent you from missing key details.
· Follow Up Questions: Follow up questions help you get all the information you need from someone. You can use phrases like, “Can you tell me more about…?” or, “What should I keep in mind when…?” Who, what, when, where, why, or how based questions are useful during conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable.
· Being Clear: When talking to others, speak clearly, and check in often to make sure they understand what you are telling them. Look for any signs of confusion or unease in their responses to you. The safety of the person you are caring for may rely on your ability to be heard.
Empathy is one of the most important tools a caregiver has. It is the ability to relate to someone else’s feelings or struggles. It’s more than just feeling sorry for the other person. It is being able to put yourself in their shoes.
While you may not understand exactly what that person is going through, you can probably think of a situation in which you might have felt the same emotions. Whether it is fear, anger, frustration, or sadness, we all feel the same things. Use your experiences to bring their perspective to life.
Like any skill, empathy is something you can practice. Resources like 6seconds.org offer many tips to increase your ability to empathize. Once it is a habit, you will likely find that making connections to those you care about is much easier. Empathy is a powerful and emotional bonding tool that increases the trust someone has for you.
Some situations will be harder to relate to than others, depending on your experiences. But don’t be afraid to ask someone to share how they feel with you. Remember that you are a support for the person you care for, not just physically but emotionally too. If you can help them carry their burdens, they will always remember it.
Patience is our ability to cope with stressful situations without overreacting or reacting negatively. This skill comes more naturally to some than others, but it’s something anyone can learn. Being patient comes with many benefits, both for you and the person you are caring for.
Being patient helps you keep your mind clear. When your mind is clear, you make better decisions and are less likely to make mistakes. Patience makes you more approachable and gives you the appearance of being confident. It helps create a positive environment and makes others feel safe.
Sometimes, being a caregiver is stressful. This stress can make your patience feel like it’s in short supply. The constant pressure to meet someone else’s needs, especially if it’s a responsibility that rests on your shoulders alone, can be overwhelming. Stress management for caregivers can help you achieve the patience you need to deal with even the most challenging issues.
If you find yourself struggling with patience, that may be a sign that it is time to step back. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help or reach out to resources in your area for support. Making decisions or working from a place of stress, anger, and frustration will create more problems for you in the long run. It can also damage the relationship between you and the person you care for.
Positive caregivers thrive in their roles. Being positive makes others feel at peace and safe. Your positivity will shine into everything you do, making even the most challenging tasks possible.
Positive people can take any situation and see the good in it. Caregiving comes with many trials. An upbeat and optimistic attitude might not take away a problem, but it does make it easier to cope with.
Unfortunately, positivity is not something that is in endless supply. Everyone experiences emotional burnout at some point. If you are a caregiver, taking care of yourself and doing things you enjoy from time to time is a must. Meeting your own needs makes it’s easier to stay positive over time.
Take a moment and think about what you might need to increase your ability to be positive. What makes you feel happy? Maybe it is time with friends and family or a walk in nature. Doing things that you like will help you manage your stress levels and stay in the right frame of mind.
A caregiver needs keen observation skills. As someone looking after another person, you may need to be their eyes and ears for them. They are trusting you to be aware.
A good observer can notice even the most subtle problems. A change in medical condition? An environmental hazard? Information that just doesn’t sound quite right? Your observation skills can prevent something dangerous from happening.
The best observers are those who can keep control over their emotions. In tense or complicated situations, you should be able to put aside anger, frustration, or fear. This will keep your mind locked on essential details that you may need later.
Remember that you can rely on tools to help you increase your skills as an observer. Instead of trying to trust your memory alone, write down, or record a conversation. Note how something changes from day to day. You might be surprised at what you notice.
Things that often go unnoticed, like side effects to medications, changes to a person’s mental wellbeing, or a change in someone’s functioning, might be discovered because you were watching. Your ability to keep an accurate record is incredibly valuable. No detail is too small when it comes to the safety of someone else. Make sure you always have permission to write or record conversations.
Physical Strength and Stamina
Many people make the mistake of thinking that caregiving is emotional or administrative work only. And while you support in these ways, the job is often more hands-on than you think.
The person you are caring for needs a caregiver because they cannot do some things for themselves. You may be helping them with major daily tasks such as showering, walking, or cleaning. There may be lifting or bending involved on your part. In an emergency, you may need to assist someone with a fall or physically hold them upright.
Your physical strength and stamina need to be in top shape. If you are unsure what your physical limits are, it is a good idea to visit your doctor. They can let you know if there are any caregiving tasks you should not take part in. If you are hurt, you will not be able to take care of others either.
Your doctor will likely encourage you to eat a nutritious diet, exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are four exercises you can do to improve your physical abilities. As always, check with your physician before beginning any new fitness regimens.
Initiative is your ability to start tasks without being asked or without waiting until the last minute. It’s vital for caregivers because it will prevent you from getting overwhelmed by all you do in your role.
But, having initiative doesn’t mean just checking items off a to-do list with the right timing. You will want to try and anticipate the needs of those around you too. There are lots of little ways you can practice taking the initiative as a caregiver.
One simple way is to make sure the person you care for has everything they need before they need it. You can check that they have enough medications, food, or body care products to last for a certain length of time. You could schedule appointments in advance, ensure their home or automobile is in good working condition, or make their important documents easily accessible.
How you practice taking the initiative will look different depending on who you are caring for and their needs. However, it is a skill that will go a long way. The more you can do now to prepare for tomorrow, the better.
Interpersonal skills describe how well you work with others. As a caregiver, you will work with lots of people, not just the person you care for. If you want to have strong interpersonal skills, there are a few things you can practice.
· Teamwork: Strong interpersonal skills rely on how well you can work with others. Are you able to take direction from them? Ask for help when needed? Share responsibilities and trust when necessary? Seeing how your role affects the big picture is a crucial component of teamwork.
· Nonverbal Communication: Sometimes what you do not say speaks louder than what you do say. Friendly, confident, and calm body language can go a long way in how you communicate with others, especially those you care for. Whether it’s a gentle smile in a moment of uncertainty or sincere eye contact while listening, others will notice that you prioritize them.
· Dependability: People like knowing they have someone they can trust. As a caregiver, there are many ways you can earn that trust. Simple gestures like showing up when you say you will, speaking truthfully, and letting the other person know they are safe and valued can quickly make you the most dependable person to them.
Time management is not just a corporate skill, it’s valuable to have in all situations, even caregiving. Someone with strong time management skills is more likely to avoid stress, make fewer mistakes, and be happier. You might be wondering how people develop good time management. Here are some ideas:
· Use a Calendar: Whether you use one on a wall or your phone, a calendar is one of the most vital tools a caregiver can have. You can keep track of your important events and those of the people you care for too. When your time is laid out visually in front of you, you are less likely to overschedule yourself, ensuring you reserve plenty of time for self-care.
· Time Blocking: Time blocking is gaining popularity among time management professionals. Rather than schedule your day from moment to moment (say breakfast at 8:00, the gym at 8:30), you organize your day into chunks of time. Once your time is separated, you assign that chunk of time to a specific task (and only that task).
The benefit of time blocking is knowing you have dedicated time to finish what you need to do. Once that chunk of time ends, you put away the task for the day and move on to what’s next. You can personalize your time blocking routine too. Entrepenuer.com has easy tips here.
· Prioritize Your Tasks: When there is a lot on your to-do list, it can feel stressful. Caregivers are no strangers to having packed schedules. When the things you need to get done pile up, it’s time to pause and prioritize.
You will want to balance your needs with the needs of those you care for. You might try writing a list and see if there is a way you can sort your tasks into things that need to be done and things that would just be nice to do. Brainstorm ways to get help with these things.
You may choose to complete your tasks in order of importance or how quickly you can get them done. There is no right way to prioritize. Choose a system that works for you and stick to it every day if you can.
· Set Goals: Time management is not only about what you need to get done. It is also about what you want to do with the time you have. Try to think outside your to-do list and set goals for yourself. If you start each morning with something you want to accomplish by the end of the day, you will be more likely to stay focused on the things that need to get done.
Cleanliness is vital for caregivers. Others are looking to you as an example of the type of care they will receive. Suppose your appearance is messy, or you have questionable hygiene practices. In that case, others may wonder if you can meet their needs.
There are many small things you can do to show that you value cleanliness. Keeping nails short and clean, wearing appropriately fitting clothes, having fresh breath, and grooming your hair are all excellent places to start. But, it’s not just your appearance that you need to be aware of.
As a caregiver, the way you keep your environment will also tell a story about your skills. Do you keep your space cluttered or tidy? Do you practice a system of organization? Being messy increases your chances of losing something important or making mistakes.
It is likely in your role that you will be keeping track of lots of information for someone else. You might even be responsible for their medical care. A clean and well-organized space increases a person’s safety and decreases the chance that something can go wrong or get lost.
As you can see, a lot more goes into caregiving than merely being there for another person. It is a full-time job, emotionally and mentally. Caregiving is important but rewarding. If you can master these ten skills, you will be well on your way to succeeding in this role.
Remember, many of these skills take time and practice to get right. If you find yourself struggling in an area, it doesn’t mean you are not meant to be a caregiver. There are many resources available to help you and many people who want you to succeed.
If you find that taking on the responsibility of caring for someone else is too challenging, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to others and share your concerns. Caregiving isn’t something you have to do alone.