Bridging the Generation Gap

By Thomas Anderson

Communication between younger and older generations is the key to successfully encouraging children to connect with their elders.

It's not always easy to get people of different age groups to see eye to eye, and that's especially true of children and the elderly. What could a seven-year-old possibly have in common with a 75-year-old? You might be pleasantly surprised. When it comes to interaction between elders and children, however, many adult caregivers of aging parents are quick to warn children away from Grandma or Grandpa for fear that the child will disturb or upset the older individual.

In many situations, the elderly crave the attention and interest of young children, and would love to sit and talk with older children and teens as well. How do you know when to encourage such connections?

Intergenerational relations

Communication is a two-way street. Whether visiting a grandparent in an assisted living facility or in elderly home care, many children feel that older people don't like them. What do they base this belief on? The most common response is that the older person doesn't respond to the children's comments.

Many older people feel that children don't like them because they're slow or believe they don't have anything worthwhile to talk about.

In either of these cases, family caregivers should encourage communication between younger and older generations. According to present statistics, the number of seniors is expected to increase 56% from the year 2000 to 2020, so it's time to bridge that generation gap once and for all. Wide gaps in age, beliefs, traditions and habits contribute to communication difficulties between the two; however, the benefits of encouraging relationships between youngsters and the senior community include but are not limited to:

  • Opportunities to learn new skills and methods of doing things
  • Encouraging children to accept people of all ages, capabilities and limitations
  • Providing both child and adult with direction and purpose
  • Alleviating isolationism for elders

In many cultures (such as Hispanic and African-American), more households are multigenerational and involved in some type of senior care, but in the United States, it's not as common to find such scenarios among Caucasian households. According to U.S. Census Bureau records, multigenerational households have significantly increased from 1990 to 2000.

Encouraging children to take an interest in Grandma or Grandpa is a matter of including them in the daily aspects of an elderly person's care. Children who are taught to respect their elders are much more inclined to help take care of them. Those who have developed close emotional bonds to grandparents or great-grandparents are more understanding and patient with people who have disabilities. Such children know that they have to speak a little louder and a little slower around Grandma, or that Grandpa may need a little extra help getting into bed at night. Children without grandparents can reap the same benefits from an adopted grandparent.

Leading by example

Quality of life for both children and any senior citizen means communication. Show children through your behavior how you want them to behave toward their elders. For example:

  • Plan activities that include both younger children and the older adult
  • Show respect and attention to elders, which in turn helps teach children to do the same
  • Engage in storytelling — every day, one person tells a story: Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, or the child
  • Have Grandma or Grandpa teach children new skills
  • Allow children to read to elders, and vice versa
  • Encourage children and elders to share or take an interest in each other's hobbies or interests

Crossing bridges—one at a time

Developing any kind of relationship takes time and effort. Don't expect everything to go smoothly every day. Children are often afraid of senior citizens and need to be encouraged slowly and in a positive manner for optimal success. It takes a little time for seniors to adapt to vibrant and active children, so allow them time to adjust as well. With time, relationships will develop, grow, and nurture both young and old alike.

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- Written By

Thomas Anderson

Geriatric Care Manager
Thomas Anderson has over 15 years of experience providing care and support to elderly individuals. He specializes in helping seniors manage their medical needs and navigate the healthcare system. Thomas keenly understands how to help aging adults stay as independent as possible while ensuring they have access to the best available resources.