Most seniors love spending time with the younger members of their family—grandkids, great-grandkids or other little ones they know and love. Children can bring a lot of joy and energy into the room, brightening your aging loved one’s day with their laughter and smiles. That said, it can be as exhausting for seniors as it is wonderful—especially when we’re talking about really young kids or busy school-aged children!
On the other side of the equation, young kids may have concerns or sensitive questions about any physical or cognitive challenges they notice their older family members experiencing—particularly if they don’t spend time together on a regular basis. If all of this sounds like a lot to navigate for a simple family visit, it sometimes is—but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips to make the most from your intergenerational family visit.
Set expectations—on both sides!
First of all, ask your aging loved one if they’d like to have a visit with your kids. Assuming they say yes, ask what time of day is best for them—they may feel most energetic in the morning or after a midday nap. Some seniors will be most comfortable in their own home, while others would love to visit your home for a change of scenery (just be sure your house is free from tripping hazards—a challenge if you have little ones).
Next, set expectations with your kids. If they’re very young, this isn’t necessarily going to be effective—but if they’re old enough to respond to behavioural prompts and follow instructions, set some simple guidelines. It’s helpful to remind them to use their best manners, but it’s also a good idea to give them a rough idea of how long you’ll be visiting and what it may entail—chatting, sharing a meal, playing a card game, etc. Consider having your child bring a homecard card or drawing, or bring some paper and crayons along so your kids can make something special during the visit. (This will also keep them occupied in a space with minimal or no toys!)
Offer guidance and information
On the way to visit your aging loved one, have a quick chat with your kids to help them feel comfortable. If your family member has hearing impairment, remind your children to speak loudly and clearly. If they’re sensitive to noise, ask your kids to use an “indoor voice” while visiting. Let your kids know about any major changes that have occured since they last saw this particular relative—for example, Grandma uses a walker now—it helps her feel steady on her feet, so it’s a good thing! or Grandpa is struggling with his memory so he may mix up our names, but that’s okay—we don’t need to correct him. Keep the conversation factual, calm and as positive as possible. This proactive information-sharing can prevent innocent but awkward questions in front of older family members. And if your children do ask uncomfortable questions in the middle of your visit? Answer them honestly and age-appropriately, then move on.
Enjoy your time together
Whether you stop by an aging relative’s home for an hour, bring them lunch or spend an entire afternoon together, we hope it’s a great opportunity to connect and enjoy each other’s company. Some seniors thrive when they have frequent visits from family—including young children—but others will appreciate shorter or more spaced out visits. Watch your loved one for cues that they’re getting tired or agitated, follow their lead when determining when to end the visit, ask your children how they felt about the experience and make future plans accordingly. Family is everything, and you’ll soon find the routine that’s best for yours. Thanks for reading and take care!