An Addition to Your Caregiving Team: Your Parent's Grandchildren

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One of the most remarkable and enduring human relationships in our society is between grandparents and their grandkids.

The children are the living extension of the elder's life, and so the grandparent wants time and sharing with the child at whatever age. The grandchild needs Grandma's or Grandpa's love, caring and sharing.

Your children, at whatever age, may be the most important addition to your caregiving team. Rather than pushing them aside because you must devote your full time to caregiving, bring them into a vital role. Otherwise, they will miss out on sharing, hugging and learning from the elder who really needs them.

Roles and Needs

If anything erodes the life of a mature adult it is losing mission, important things to do today and into the future. Without worthwhile, purposeful things to do, the mature adult, your aging parent, may disappear into a today and tomorrow of nothingness.

Grandkids need recognition through all their years, and particularly through ‘tween and teen years.

Unlike children in Western Europe who learn their family history back to 400 years, most kids in this country know little about their lineage, family history or the challenges through history, such as the bank failures in ‘29, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam or even the economic volatility of past years. The country of yesteryear is not the country of today.

Grandchildren, if asking the right questions today, can really learn from their grandparents. Grandparents, if asking the right questions today, can learn from their grandkids.

Therefore, getting your children actively involved in your caregiving program may be the best thing that can happen to the entire family.

Explain to your child that your Mom and/or Dad need to have time with them, plus hugs, but that the time for them will be greatly beneficial in what they know, appreciate and understand. Tell your parent that your child really needs to know more about his or her lineage and history so, with that knowledge, has a foundation for building his or her future. It doesn't matter if all the earlier relatives were laborers; such can be the foundation for teaching that the value and ethics of work are a foundation for having greater aspirations for the child's greater future.

10 Steps for Including Grandchildren in Elder Care

Based on two dozen interviews of caregivers, experts, grandparents, grandchildren and media sources, here are some recommendations for helping grandchildren and grandchildren relate.

Sitting: Unless your parent needs frequent medication or falls frequently, a teenager can be a fine sitter for his or her grandparent. Entrust them with responsible tasks such as making coffee or tea, pouring juice or water, or serving an earlier-prepared lunch. Conversely, unless the grandparent has some mental or serious physical disability, he or she could accept a weekly role as sitter for a few hours for a grandchild, gaining a mission to anticipate and fulfill, while also enjoying the time, chatting, game playing or project building.

Today's Question: One of the worst questions an elder can ask a grandchild is "How was school today," because the simple answer is one word, "okay," and does not invite further discussion. Instead, suggest that your parent and his or her grandchild have the same question for each other in a visit. Questions that open further two-way sharing may include: "What's the best thing you learned today (or this past week)?" "What can I tell you about me?" Or: "What do you need to know today but you don't have enough information?" The grandparent, therefore, opens himself or herself to learning from the child, and the child delights in providing an answer and having an elder listen.

Puzzles: Solving puzzles is a mutual and enjoyable challenge for both grandparent and grandchild. Crossword and picture puzzles are available in a wide range, from very simple to challenging, so that children of most ages can participate and, teamed with the grandparent, can share in the success of solution. Persons interviewed for this feature recommend against attempting Sudoku "numbers" puzzles as too daunting to most children, even those in their teens.

Reading to Each Other: The grandparent can read to the child, particularly descriptive stories that create visions in mind. The grandchild can read to the elder anything from school or, perhaps, a favorite book which makes reading or speaking aloud easier and better for the youth. The process of reading aloud to each other may take a total of only 20 minutes, but should be a time of joy long remembered by both elder and younger.

Television: There is much to discover on television, and it is not on the major networks. As an example, a grandparent can introduce a grandchild to a pops concert to not only to listen to the fine music but to teach the younger to identify the musical instruments. One grandparent created a game in which the child wins a prize, such as piece of candy, when he or she can name 10 instruments being featured on the screen while, alternatively, identifying the instruments by the sound and tone in hearing.

Movie Time: An alternative is in sharing a periodic or even regular movie time that introduces earlier, classic films. The grandchild should be able to both understand and enjoy the films while also learning yesteryears from autos to clothing styles, also a gain for the present as well as his or her future. Have the popcorn ready for each screening. Or, grandchildren can introduce grandparents to their favorite modern movies.

Family History Book: Find your parent's stash of old photos and mementos and place them in a single box or stack. The child can help the grandparent sort the memorabilia while the elder tells a bit of the history, time and people. If you have an all-in-one computer printer, the grandchild can copy or screen each of the items and then assemble the copies into an album format. The younger can make hand notes, even as dictated by the grandparent, to identify each of the photographs or items. When completed, the album may be copied as gifts to other family members so that they, too, learn of their family history and times of importance to the grandparent.

Internet and E-mail: Don't let geographic distance limit quality time between grandchildren and grandparents. The internet, email, even online videos are great way for the generations to stay connected. The web is also a great way to keep track of family history. Or, if you parent does lives nearby, but does not yet use a computer, a teenage grandchild can teach the elder. You are relieved of the task, while the grandchild will probably be elated to teach what he or she has learned about the tech world. Once taught, your parent can communicate with other family members and friends and remain mentally active by accessing sites and sources of interest. Plus, e-mail can be the first and regular line of communication from grandparent to grandchildren in other cities or even foreign countries.

Travel: If your parent can travel with assistance, consider an older teen grandchild as his or her travel companion. Cruise travel is ideal, even for an elder in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane. There are now several operators of travel tours specifically for grandparents with a grandchild or two. The experience will open the world to the younger while providing quality time for both elder and younger plus the full programming and assist of professional staff. The grandchild should also gain an increase in responsibility that will serve him or her well into the future.

Hugs: This may be a first priority in the relationship of grandparents and grandchildren. Hugs at the start and end of each visit are important for both elder and younger. If the child is a bit reluctant to offer a hug in early visits, lift a small one so that the grandparent can start the hug. If your parent is physically limited and the grandchild is small, get a step stool so that the younger can ascend to the grandparent's lap to present a hug. The hug is a magical and memorable moment for your parent plus, now and in later memory, something very special for the grandchild.

Take a break from your possible tedium and stress in caregiving by enlisting your parent's grandchild or grandchildren for regular assistance. Then be ready to witness the joy of their sharing.


Leonard J. Hansen is the nation's pioneer in writing and editing to, for and about mature adults. He received 106 professional awards and fellowships for his creative work.

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12 Comments

The difference between USA and other countries' and other cultures' interaction between elderly people and everyone else is part of the brainwashing of the "youth is good" cult of advertisements. For the most part, families in the USA don't consist of more than two generations and even these are often fairly isolated from one another.

But I have always had my maternal in the house when I was growing up. It was like having three parents sometimes. It was a positive experience. I don't have children, but I have nieces and nephews and we still have family gatherings at my mother's house (she has Alzheimer's and I am her primary family caregiver living with her since June 2006). Though it would be nice if the grandkids came over more at least they do come (and wear her out a little - they are all 14 to 19-almost-20). And she enjoys it.
I am a caregiver to my father for the last 5 1/2 yrs. Recently he developed pnemonia and congestive heart failure and was hospitalized for 3 + weeks. My sons, 35 and 30, took turns being at the hospital, talked with him, watched movies with him and helped with his physical therapy and dressing and bathing him. My oldest posted pictures of Dad's great granddaughters in the room and had them make cards for him. They have always been close to him, but this only enriched their relationship and brought it to a new dimension. It also helped encourage him to do the things he needed to to to get better. Now that he is home, he is weak but recovered, and I am positive that their love and caring brought him back to the comforts of his own home and family again.

Celia
My sister and I have always been close to my grandmother, she was our second caregiver after my mom, and there is a tremendous amount of mutual respect and affection between us. As my grandmother has aged and needed more support my sister and I have taken on a lot of the caregiving duties, just as a matter of course, cooking, shopping, gardening and MD appts, it just seemed like the thing to do. This provided my sister and I with a sense of usefulness, and family connection that many in our generation seem to lack. Additionally, as we have moved into our twenties, through school, and into jobs, Grandma has always been able to provide us with a warm meal, a warm bed and good people to be with. Now that I am in nursing school and grandma needs more hands on care to manage her meals and medications, I am able to live with her, and care for her without sacrificing her dignity, and she feels (rightfully so) that the house she worked so hard for, and the savings she built up so carefully have a purpose beyond herself.
I feel so sad for people who are not given the opportunity to bond with their grandparents, forget family history, caring for a failing elder teaches compassion, patience and love, and a sense of community and strength.