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This is something I've noticed with older people, mainly men - the desire to do e.g. household or other maintenance-type tasks themselves, without explaining how to do it, even preferring that I'm not there. It usually happens when I ask whether I can help with these tasks, or if I ask whether they can help me with something. I'm not specifying individuals because it's something I've noticed among several older people, both within and outside the family.

For example, a few years ago when I was still a new driver I got a flat tyre and wanted to change it. I asked an older male relative if he could show me how to change it, he said "yes" but then went and did it himself without showing me or explaining anything. When I asked him if he could walk me through it he kept deflecting it so I eventually gave up. Recently I changed the oil on my car, and I just used google to find out what to do because I knew if I asked him he'd just do it himself again and not explain it.

Another example with a different relative; whenever we do DIY together he always does dangerous things by himself e.g. lifting things that are too heavy, or going up precarious ladders alone. He won't ask me for help, he'll just go off and do it. When I realize and offer to help, he refuses. If I flag up that I think it's dangerous and that he shouldn't do it, he'll either ignore me or say it's fine. Recently I heard that he injured his back by doing this.

One last example is that the smoke alarm in our house has been malfunctioning; I offered to take a look at it but a different older male relative insists on doing it himself, so he's been tinkering with it and it keeps malfunctioning, and I'm getting annoyed that he won't even let me look at it.

Women occasionally do this too, but I've definitely noticed it more with men. I'm a young, fit man so part of me wonders whether they're doing it to "prove" that they still can and that they're not old and decrepit or whatever. I don't know if they feel threatened by me being younger and fitter and out to "usurp them" or something.

The Goal

What I'd like to achieve is something like the following:

Me: "Hey I need to do -thing-, could you show me how to do it?"

Or

Me: "I noticed you're having some trouble with -thing-, can I take a look?"

Them: "Sure, give me a minute and we'll work through it together."

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  • For what it's worth, I'm a woman and have had this problem with men who are a similar age to me, so I don't think it's your gender or age. No answer because I haven't found a solution myself. =[ – Kat Sep 22 '20 at 0:20
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    "hoarding skills/knowledge" shows a bad taste in choosing words honestly. There is nothing wrong with learning more and more. It is called self-improvement not "hoarding". – CoderInNetwork Sep 27 '20 at 21:58
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    @CoderInNetwork - While I agree that it's bad taste in choosing words, I think you've got the roles turned around. OP is accusing the old folks of "hoarding" their knowledge and refusing to share it, thus preventing OP from being able to learn more and more. – Dave Sherohman Sep 28 '20 at 8:29
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Making an older person change his ways of doing things is quite difficult. It's better if we just accept that this is how it's gonna be.

We want them not to do something risky? We can't do that. All we can do is be available for them in case they are hurt.

We want them to be more participative? It's not gonna happen if they have the habit of doing things by themselves. We just gonna have to be bystanders and onlookers.

Also, it is to be noted that sometimes older people give too much respect to the young people. So, they don't want them to bother about 'petty' things (in their opinion).

Not to mention that 'teaching' is a skill, and not everybody has it. We can just be grateful that they at least showed us how to do the things. Also, in case, they don't want to show or teach, it's their prerogative. We can't demand that.

That brings me to my last point that some young people feel entitled to knowledge. They think that they should be taught or be provided with information. One needs to see that there is already vast information available openly for everyone. If they really want, they can learn things on their own accord. It's not really upon other individuals to help them. (I am not saying it applies to your case. Just adding a dimension to the answer).

That being said, if we just show enough skill and participation in other small things then older folks might see it and actually seek our help or opinion with something big too. We need to give them time to see our worth. (but this should be done without expecting sureshot results. In case, they still don't seek us, we need to be okay with it.)

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Well, I admit my boyfriend would sometimes qualify, I'm sure I also have tendencies, but so does most of my family's men. I do not know for sure the origin, but to me it explains by gender role education (through parental education but also friends, medias, etc.), which can be strongly rooted in some people. They (we ?) believe their role is to be strong and knowledgeable, "protectors" kind of cliché, so someone asking for help is a great way to demonstrate their worth.

Now for your actual problem, I see several things you could implement:

"I noticed you're having some trouble with -thing-, can I take a look?"

Well, if you identify someone that's likely to refuse help, and especially if the situation could be dangerous, then acting without asking is in my experience more appropriate and effective. They dont have to process if they want or need help they would just have it and if necessary they could tell you to go away. So by all means, secure the ladder, go grab the object someone is lifting etc.

Now there are situations where someone would be e.g. carring something alone and in a position to prevent you from grabbing it then you could use a small trick there, that is to put on your operation manager hat and give them imperative instructions such as "turn left" - that would ultimately enable you grab the heavy object (without asking again).

These are codes I saw used by handimen such as my father that I would have difficulties to help by asking.

Me: "Hey I need to do -thing-, could you show me how to do it?"

This is a bit different here, I think the key is to ask at a time where they are disposed to. I would not interrupt someone working on my flat tire unless I knew they would welcome my questions. But I could ask another day meeting them in my family.

There is no guarantee this will work but don't forget anyway that nowadays there are plenty of good quality videos on various DIY tricks.

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This is something that definitely happens in my family. So I can only offer an answer within the family scenario.

In my family it happens because it seems to be easier and faster to do it themselves than trying to teach someone else. What works for me is to be firm - ask for help, but state that you want them to explain to you how to do it, and not do it for you.

If at any moment they try to take the task away from you just stating "no, just tell me how to do it / what am I doing wrong / how should I do it better" will shift the attention back to helping you instead of doing it for you.

This has definitely helped me, and now when I ask for help they know I will want to do it myself and they won't immediately try to do it themselves, sometimes I have to remind them that I don't need them to do it for me.

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