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This is Your Permission Slip

Permission Slips – Caroline Dawson

Permission slips conjure images of the childhood coveted “Hall Pass”, or perhaps a signature for a field trip. Permission slips of adulthood manifest as physician notes to miss work or a boss’s blessings to run with a project as we see fit or to take vacation days. Sometimes they appear as a hug that gives us permission to feel. Feel grief, feel relief, feel joy. All these examples imply a sense of freedom. Freedom to roam the halls and get that extra drink of water on the way back from the bathroom, freedom to just *be* and recover from an illness, freedom to be creative, freedom to take care of business, freedom to enjoy your afternoon as you will. Freedom to feel.

Permission Slips = Freedom

Permission slips as a tool? The concept of permission slips has been rebooted for me by Brenè Brown. She provides the necessary reminder that we don’t have to wait for others to hand out the permission slips we need but can write every day permission slips for ourselves.

For those of us in caring professions and caring positions with individuals with symptoms of dementia I’ve come to notice a few particular permission slips are in great demand. This will be the first in a blog series “Permission Slips” Today I’m going to talk about one in particular:

Permission not to argue.

Sign this one for yourself right away. “I give myself permission not to argue (with my resident/client/loved one with dementia) anymore.” This may be easy (or not) to write, but more difficult in practice. Arguing is likely to escalate the situation, causing everyone distress.

Anytime we say “No”  – we are arguing.

Here are two tools to use instead of arguing: Re-frame & Reflect

Re-frame: Shift from Negative to Positive

Instead of: “No, don’t go over there.” try “Let’s go this way.”

Instead of: “Not now.” try “Soon.”

Instead of: “We don’t have ____.” try “That does sound good. Would you like ____ or ____?”

Reflect: Shift from opposing to aligning “Be their mirror.”

She says: “You stole my purse.”

You say: (Instead of “No I didn’t.” or “No one stole your purse.”) try: “Your purse is missing?”

He says: “I’m trapped. They won’t let me go home.”

You say:  (Instead of “You live here.” or “You can’t go home.”) try: “You feel trapped.”

She says: “The food here is awful.”

You say: (instead of “You have to eat.” or “Isn’t it nice to have someone cook for you.”) try: “Ugh. What sounds good right now?”

This acknowledges their feeling of loss – SOMEthing – is missing – her memory, his life, her mother’s cooking – and her taste buds.

This shift on your part is the start of Validation. Validation is a communication technique that allows you relate to their experience of reality.

Validation builds empathy and trust.

This style of communicating takes some practice – so here’s a couple more permission slips:

Permission to not have all the answers.

Permission to be awkward.

Permission to practice.

Permission to be curious.

I invite you to learn more about this technique via the book:  Validation Breakthrough  by Naomi Feil, or find more on her website: vfvalidation.org

Each of those examples above are just the start  – the start of relating to your client, resident or loved one in a way that will build your relationship instead of build heartache and conflict. Permission not to argue: Granted.

What permission slips do you need? Comment below, jot them down and slip them in your pocket.

For more tips: 5 Agewise Strategies for Communicating with Individuals with Cognitive Impairment

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One Response to “This is Your Permission Slip”


  • Lisa Moody / / Reply

    What a great blog post, Caroline. I love the redirection methods. I volunteered at a local assisted living facility where I had to utilize these methods. You have really captured the essence of this concept!


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“AgeWise staff have been a delight to work with for a number of years. They have been integral team members in caring for four senior adults in my family. They have dealt with difficult situations with intelligence and sensitivity. We know we can count on them to assess needs ranging from Alzheimer's care to end of life issues and help provide compassionate solutions. AgeWise staff have gone above and beyond to assist my family.”
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