The number of Americans over 65 years of age has tripled since the beginning of the 20th century and is expected to double yet again by 2020. Numbers alone demonstrate the opportunity available to encourage children to have positive, reciprocal relationships with people of an older generation. Although developing a relationship between the two groups is often viewed as an obstacle, there are many ways to promote a positive experience for both children and seniors. The benefits of an inter-generational relationship is vast.
Create Enjoyable Associations
Young children especially are often afraid of older people, particularly if they don’t spend a lot of time around them. The aged appearance and voice of a senior citizen can come across as scary and is often portrayed that way in television shows and movies. If your child doesn’t have grandparents nearby, it’s important that you take the time to create pleasurable associations regarding spending time around older people. Doing so can help ease a false sense of fear and replace it with feelings of happiness and anticipation of the next get-together.
Take your young child to the library to listen to an older volunteer read stories. Find out if your church or child’s school has a buddy program that pairs children with a senior citizen and take advantage of such a program to build pleasant experiences between your child and the older generation.
Children aren’t the only ones to benefit from an intergenerational relationship. In fact, when children find out they can help the older people in their life, it boosts confidence, and fosters respect and appreciation. Have your child swap planned learning time with the older person in their life for mutual learning opportunities that help foster a strong foundation for their relationship. The technology of today gives your child the skills to teach an older person how to do things on the computer, while an older adult can teach your child how to play a game or do a craft that was popular when they were young.
These types of activities build respect by giving children a firsthand experience of the knowledge an older person can share. Community centers are an ideal place in which to seek out or create a program that brings children and older adults together. Time spent together on learning skills, games and activities that enrich a child’s life fosters a natural progression in the relationship that leads to appreciation and respect.
Young children get tired and restless quickly, and so do some older adults. Random, unplanned get-togethers can upset the schedule of an older adult, as well as that of a child. By planning appropriately, you ensure that both your child and the older adult are ready for a get-together and have engaging activities to keep them busy and make the time enjoyable for both.
Go for quality over quantity when planning together time. A young child’s level of activity might initially be energizing to an older adult but hours of it can be exhausting. Conversely, an older adult can have a calming effect on an active child, but after a while soothing can turn into boring. Experiment with different lengths of time to see what works best. Watch for cues from your child and the older adult to be proactive and prevent problems.
Promoting an intergenerational relationship between your child and an older adult does more than teach your child to respect and appreciate them. It helps preserve history, opens a child’s eyes to diversity, and expands their world in a way that no other type of friendship can.
Olivia Stanford is a lifestyle consultant and writes for dogwoodforest.com, a beautiful assisted living atlanta facility for senior citizens of Georgia.