Few relationships in life seem as mutually beneficial as those between grandchildren and grandparents. Grandmas and grandpas traditionally like to shower attention on their descendants, and the kids in turn usually benefit from the extra love and care. The same is often true of beloved aunts, uncles and family friends who have become “adopted relatives.”
While the love between young and old can last forever, their interactions can become a bit more challenging when a grandparent or other loved one becomes elderly, disabled or hindered by memory loss. Everyone benefits when kids maintain close relationships with their older relatives, but to optimize those relationships you may wish to give your visits a little more structure — especially when dealing with young children.
The meet-ups can be even more positive and enjoyable if you enter the situation with a few ideas on how to make the experience more pleasant for all. Consider these tried-and-true suggestions.
Common ground: 9 key tips for when kids visit the elderly
Plan a creative activity
The projects need not be elaborate; you might bring materials allowing participants of all ages to color in coloring books, paint with watercolors, decorate cookies, make sculptures from clay, work on simple sewing projects, build with Legos, string Christmas garlands, or cut snowflakes or paper dolls out of paper. Even grandparents who can’t join in will have fun watching the kids be creative.
Stage reading time
Bring along a variety of books. Depending on their capacity the grandparents may snuggle up to and read to the kids, or they may serve as attentive audiences and demonstrate amazement as kids practice their own reading skills.
Arrange for show-and-tell
Ask the children to bring along school projects, artwork, sporting equipment, new toys or gadgets, photos or other items they may be interested in showing to their grandparents. You could also invite the older folks to share info about a beloved possession, item of clothing, photo or memento.
Chances are, the older person has lived through interesting times. Ask him or her to talk about specific memories, perhaps putting them into historical context for the kids so they can better relate.
Enjoy game time
Bring along simple games such as old maid, Uno, checkers or charades. Even if the grandparents aren’t able to play, they can enjoy watching the kids have fun together. One Arthur’s team member notes how a resident with memory loss starts to remember more when her energetic young grandsons visit. “It’s a good sign they can visit their Grandma Sharon and have a good time and maybe even get a little rowdy to the point where they trigger Sharon’s ‘Grandma voice,’” she writes. “Their relationship continues to be a loving one that triggers joy despite memory loss.”
Have an infant in the family? The grandparent may enjoy cuddling and/or feeding the baby, while older children can tell him or her what it’s like to have a younger brother or sister. One family was so adamant about not leaving Grandma out of an important family event that it held a baby’s baptism right at Arthur’s. “It was a privilege to assist Evelyn to dress up for this event and facilitate her participation so she could share this very special moment with her family,” wrote a staff member.
Children who are learning an instrument may wish to gift Grandma or Grandpa with a recital. Alternatives might be a family singalong or jam session; most anyone of any age or ability can accompany on kazoo.
It’s natural for the kids to have a lot more energy than the grandparents, which is why it behooves everyone to establish breaks in the action. It’s OK for kids to play outside or go on adventures down the hall in between close times with Grandma and Grandpa.
Maintain reasonable expectations
Not every visit will be a bonding experience or a memory-maker, and that’s OK. If having to plan presents so much pressure that you want to stop visiting, you may want to switch to just dropping in and letting events naturally unfold. “The best part of Christmas at Arthur’s (is that) it’s normal,” observes one Arthur’s employee. “The pressure is totally off of families to create (festivities). They can come and enjoy the holiday cheer themselves.”