Do you have the 9 caregiver skills to be successful?
Let’s start with the basics: what is a caregiver? For our purposes, becoming a caregiver involves assisting another with everything from daily living activities like dressing, cooking, and laundry, to — if you have the credentials — passing medications on a strict schedule. Caregivers also go on shopping trips and other errands for their loved one or client, and they are often “on-call,” meaning that when something comes up in their recipient’s life, they’re ready to deal with the issue no matter what it happens to be.
Oftentimes, people are thrown into the role of caregiver by necessity. Your family member or other loved one may have no one else in their life who is able and willing to do the work. Disability can come as a complete surprise to both the sufferer and the brand-new caregiver. A stroke or heart attack. The onset of memory loss. A fall that translates into limited mobility. It could be anything, and it could happen at any time.
Alternatively, you may be seeking employment as a paid caregiver. If this describes you, you may be particularly interested in the caregiver skills that an employer may be looking for.
Naturally, you want to do a good job as a caregiver. Peruse the list of nine important caregiver skills below and see how many you already have. For the ones you don’t have, well, take a shot at developing them. It’ll be good for you, and it will be better for the recipient of your care.
9 Caregiver Skills
If you have the majority of the skills in this list, you will be better able to manage the stress of caregiving, whether caring for a loved one at home or caring for clients as a paid caregiver. The skills for caregiver positions are not too unlike the jobs duties of a personal care aide, with some exceptions.
Here’s our list, and – if you’re someone with caregiving experience, add your thoughts to the comments section.
There’s a good reason why compassion is at the top of the caregiver skills list — nobody can be a successful caregiver without having the natural inclination to feel sympathy toward another. Sympathy, feeling another’s distress or pain when faced with the presence of it, is an absolute necessity, namely because only after it’s experienced will a caregiver feel the need to reach out with a helping hand.
If it comes as a shock or surprise to you that there may be people out there who are incapable of sympathy — and by extension, incapable of compassionate acts — there’s good news, because that means you’re not one of those unfortunate few. And the compassion begins with the act of stepping up and accepting responsibility, accepting the role of caregiver when there may well have been others in your family who are also capable. Your compassion, worn on your sleeve, is what leads you toward caregiving. That’s admirable.
2) Physical Ability
How would you feel, physically, after carrying a week’s worth of groceries up three flights of stairs? If you’re thinking about how hard that would be, you might not have the proper mindset — or level of physical stamina — necessary for the intensity of caregiving. However, if your first thought was, “Okay, groceries are upstairs, now to put them away and start cooking dinner, vacuum at the same time, and then during the meal pay close attention to how my client’s new med feels to them,” you’re in the right career.
And that’s just the beginning. Caregiving comes with a cost to one’s body and one’s psyche. A caregiver is often called to be fully active and on their feet from the beginning of a shift to the end. They’re often called to lift the client themselves, in situations where mobility is lacking. Could you transfer a 150-pound patient from a chair to the bed with no trouble? It’s a rhetorical question, yes, but only until it becomes a reality. There’s simply no denying that a caregiver has to be strong and able, ready to work through break times, all with a smile and a nod.
3) Time Management
In a successful caregiver’s life, there’s no time for hitting the snooze button three or four times before you finally climb out of bed. And there’s certainly no room for being habitually late to appointments and other obligations. The simple truth is that a caregiver who has poor time-management skills will not last long in the position.
And it goes beyond being on time. Chances are, there will be so much to deal with on a daily basis that you’ll have to write a schedule and stick to it. Only so much can be put off “till later.” A successful caregiver will not only adhere to the day’s schedule of activities and responsibilities, but will also be thinking ahead to the next day, even next week’s events, in order to maintain their mental preparedness.
4) Bedside Manner
“Bedside manner” can seem almost like an intangible, but it’s very real thing. There’s even such a thing as “webside manner” when meetings take place online. It’s the difference between a caregiver who rushes in and doesn’t take the client’s emotional health and comfort into account, and a caregiver who is gentle and firm and pays close attention to indicators like body language, eye contact, and response to touch, making constant adjustments with the client’s comfort at front of mind.
When a client or loved one feels comfortable even though the situation may have otherwise been uncomfortable or embarrassing, that’s when the real connections take place. Humor can be injected into a situation just as medicine can be injected into the arm. Affinity, connection, meaning, shared strength, all those things can happen when the caregiver presents an appealing bedside manner.
It’s an unavoidable fact — there will be times in a caregiver’s career where the loved one or client will test their patience. The care recipient may have a bad day where they are irritated by one thing or another and — psychology addresses it — take out their frustrations on the nearest party, the caregiver. Have you ever experienced this? How did you handle it? The successful caregiver will understand what’s going on, set their knee-jerk emotional reaction aside, and maintain a professional and positive demeanor despite what can justifiably be called abuse — having another’s frustrations aimed at you like a weapon.
The truly patient caregiver also will not hold a grudge or spend time fuming about their loved one’s short temper or manifestation of any nastiness. Nor, in the case of Alzheimer’s or other memory issues, will they snap at the client for forgetting something “obvious.” The successful caregiver will move forward, forget the bad mood, and be ready to pick up just as brightly as they began. Patience, in short, is a necessity.
In caregiving, there are many times where the situation involves some level of intimacy — from the simple proximity of a blood pressure measurement to the blush-inducing familiarity of cleaning up after incontinence. It is the caregiver’s responsibility to maintain sensitivity and professionalism enough to curtail any embarrassment on the part of the loved one or client.
Usually, this involves our number-one caregiver qualification, compassion. If it were you who was experiencing these touchy situations, you’d want someone caring for you who would be sensitive to the personal and private nature of what was happening and the resolution of it. That’s the best — perhaps only — attitude to carry into those sensitive caregiving situations.
Everyone has seen it at the workplace — that one coworker who doesn’t do a thing unless and until he or she is specifically told to, and who in the meantime has their hands in their pockets. There are volumes written about staying on top of a lazy worker for managers. But most of us, in a work situation, understand “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” the simple idea that if you want to work, you can find something to do right in front of you.
This ability to see what needs to be done and not to be afraid of the work is an absolutely crucial tool for a caregiver to have in their repertoire. You’re never going to get ahead of everything that has to be done during a given shift, week, month, or year if you can’t identify necessary tasks and take the initiative to get them started — and finished.
Do you like surprises? You might not if the surprise were a scheduled appointment across town for your client that you only find out about with five minutes to spare, or an unwelcome visitor trying to disrupt the care recipient’s day by showing up with an agenda. But the successful caregiver will be able to think on their feet and come up with solutions off the cuff that may have taken others hours to deal with.
Like a guitarist ripping out a soaring solo, your moments of necessary improvisation may go on the record as your most memorable moments on the job, perhaps even living in the memory of your client or loved one to the extent that you both laugh about it and tell stories about it later. Improvisation is a sign of intelligence, and it will get you far in your caregiving career.
9) A Caring Touch
This qualification certainly falls under the heading, “last but not least.” It’s something that is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. It’s that special bond that a decent, hardworking, successful caregiver has with their loved one or patient, that comes from a place in the soul. If you have that caring touch, you’re a natural caregiver, and you and your client are two lucky people. We’ll leave it at that because this is one thing that is not quantifiable, but it is perhaps the most important attribute you can bring to the table.
We hope you have all nine caregiver skills, or at least are able to work on and develop the ones you don’t. The position of caregiver is one of the most important in today’s society. Caregivers bring strength, confidence, comfort, and happiness to those whom they serve, in a time when more and more Americans are in need of such a boost.
So move forward — in your job, in your wellness, and ultimately, in the condition of your conscience / soul / karma, because what is at the heart of caregiving is really love. We can’t have too much of that.
Want to read more about caregiving? Check out these suggested caregiver books:
- Self-Care for Caregivers
- The Joyful Caregiver: 8 Steps to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
- The Caregiver’s Guide to Dementia
Not interested in reading? We also have a complete list of caregiver movies.
Please, if you have a story or a factoid to share, go to the comments section below.