Visiting a senior relative might not look like fun to a toddler or a teenager. The expectation that they will sit quietly in an unknown environment and told to stay off their hand-held devices can certainly be off-putting to the younger generation. However, the attitude of the adults who arrange the visits between grandchildren and grandparent, for instance, can have a major influence on how much everyone gets out of the relationship. There are things that you can do to make the combination of youth and age produce more harmony than complaint.
1. Show your children that you are eager to go. Phrases like "We have to visit Gramps" or "I know you don't want to go, but Aunt Rose wants to see you" set up an expectation of failure. Try suggesting, "Let's see if we can ask Granny to tell us about the clothes teenagers used to wear" or "Did you know that Uncle Frank used to play semi-pro baseball?" There may be interesting things in the senior living homes to excite young visitors, too, like aviaries, fish tanks, game rooms, or live music.
2. Invent some games to help seniors and young people interact. Make a set of conversation cards that your children can share with their senior friend, both answering, "What was your favorite subject in school?" or "Did you ever go to a live concert?" "Who was your first crush from the movies or television?" or "What food do you never want to see on your plate?" may inspire some deep sharing or a lot of giggles. Either way, the generations will learn about each other. Another time you might have a spelling bee with the words from your first grader's list.
3. Find out about other people in the senior living facility. By greeting others who live in the same area as your loved one, you can show your children that all people matter. If you take a treat or decoration to your own friend, you can take along extras for your child to give to roommates or table mates. Even little children can make greeting cards; shy youngsters can offer a small flower; or preteens can demonstrate a magic trick. Ask your teen what they might share: a piano piece, a rap song, the recollection of an amazing play in that week's football game. If they are prepared in advance, they may be less hesitant to open up to loved ones and strangers alike.
4. Teach your young people something about their senior loved one. Go through the photo album before your visit. Point out that Grandma was once a bride, Cousin Ted was a champion bowler, Auntie Fran had red hair and thirteen children! Little details about your relative's life can show your youngsters that these are real people whom they will visit, not just someone aging or unknown. Empathy is a skill which can be taught. Don't forget: they may be visiting you someday!
1605 W. May Street
Wichita KS 67213