Is there anything that lights up the face of a grandparent so much as the moment a beloved grandchild walks through the door for a visit? You can see it: your mother or father loves that child so much. There’s just something about being in the presence of young people that lifts the spirits.
That’s why you’ve been so good about those regular Sunday visits. You’ve read the studies about social isolation and the damage it can do to a senior’s health. You can see how a visit from a grandchild works wonders for your aging parent. Not to mention, your child looks forward to those visits, too! In her grandparents’ home, your child is assured of receiving unconditional love.
Here’s the rub: you’ve just moved your aging parent to a senior care community.
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You’re worried that the strangeness of the setting — the smells and sounds, the hospital-like setting — will be frightening to your child. You’re concerned your child may cry or be too afraid to enjoy the time with her grandparent. You’re afraid that if your child has a bad first experience visiting your parent at a senior care facility, she won’t want to return in future.
Also, your parent is still getting used to the new living situation. A senior care community may represent a loss of independence for the senior. As your parent wrestles with accepting the new situation, a visit with a grandchild can be a welcome respite from the emotional struggle. But if the child is frightened and unhappy during a first visit, this may exacerbate the very feelings the senior is working so hard to surmount.
You already know that preparing your child for new experiences is the key to success. Success, in this case, means a positive first visit to a grandparent in a senior care community so your child will feel good about future visits.
Here are some tips on making that first visit to a grandparent in a senior care facility an enjoyable and rewarding experience:
When parents discuss serious or important topics with their children and teens, they often make the mistake of setting the child down for a talk. The child then senses you are nervous or that the subject is sensitive. This can worry your child before you even get to your chosen topic. A better way is to speak while the two of you are involved in other things. You might be washing the dishes after dinner while your child is doing her homework at the kitchen table. Your back is to her. You say, “By the way, Grandma moved to a new home with a lot of people like her, who need extra help because they’re getting older. We’re driving over there for a visit on Sunday.”
This opens the floor for your child to ask questions: Who are the other people like her? Where is this place? What will happen to Grandma’s house? Is Grandma sick?
Answer these questions with open honesty and you’ll both be fine.
Now that your child knows the basics of what it means that her grandparent has moved to a senior care community, it’s time to talk about what grandparent and child can do during their time together. You might suggest the child bring a book that the grandparent can read to the child; or a family photo album to look at and discuss with the grandparent to learn more about the family history and jog a grandparent’s memory. Encourage your child to come up with her own ideas about what to do during the visit to brighten her grandparent’s day.
During the visit, model the behavior you want your child to emulate. Be friendly with the residents and inquire about their wellbeing. Smile, offer to do something nice, like bring a cup of tea to a resident, or help her carry something to her room. Even a warm, “Hi. How are you?” to a resident not your parent is showing your child a good example.
On the way home, go over the visit with your child. Let her say what she did and did not like, what she found frightening or confusing. Let her ask you anything. Back at home, have her draw a picture of her favorite moments from the visit. Display the picture to generate follow-up comments or questions during the week. You want those comments and questions. Because you want to address them and make your child feel comfortable about future visits.
Now all that remains is to plan the next visit. You got your child through that first visit to a grandparent in a senior care facility. Here’s to many more happy visits between grandparent and grandchild, for the sake of both!
Varda Meyers Epstein is a mother of 12, a grandmother of 11, and a parent education expert at Kars4Kids, a Guidestar gold medal charity. A third-generation-born Pittsburgher on her mother’s mother’s side, Varda believes firmly that all children should spend lots of time learning family history from their grandparents. It makes children better people, and it makes seniors feel loved and appreciated!
Have you been in this situation before? How did you suck the fear out of a grandchild’s first visit to a senior care community? Share your tips with us in the comments below.