Children generally see grandparents as a source of unconditional love, affection and acceptance. The benefits of this unique relationship run both ways, with children being a great source of joy for grandparents, and all the more so if they are living in aged care.
Grandparents have always played an important role in the life of families, and that shouldn’t change once they move into an aged care setting. However, it can sometimes be tricky to ensure your children have a good aged care visit with their grandparent. The setting is different, children don’t have the freedom to run around and make a lot of noise as they may previously have done, and their grandparent may be experiencing illness, disability or a reduction in mobility that can be confronting for children to deal with.
If your child has been used to visiting their grandparent in their own home, it can be daunting to visit them now in an aged care setting. However, these visits are vital for the continuation of the wonderful grandparent/grandchild relationship, and can be the source of many happy memories. Here are some strategies you can try to ensure these visits are positive experiences.
Before the visit
Preparation is vital for a good visit, particularly if it’s the first one after the grandparent has moved into an aged care facility. Preparing the child well can minimise any potential stress or discomfort about the new and unfamiliar setting. Parents should spend a bit of time educating their child about what to expect at an aged care facility, and also about any behaviour modifications that might be expected. Children may not be able to run around freely and make a lot of noise or mess – and they need to be aware of these expectations before the visit.
Plan your visit thoroughly by organising a time with the aged care facility and the grandparent, that doesn’t interfere with the daily routine of the facility. Mark the visit on your home calendar, and count down the days so that your child sees this visit as something to look forward to.
It also helps to ensure your child has had a good meal or snack before the visit, and has had a good night’s sleep if possible, to prevent poor behaviour due to physical needs.
During the visit
Plan and prepare some activities to keep both grandparent and grandchild happily occupied during the visit. Here are some ideas:
- Enjoy a meal together. You could either join in on mealtime at the facility, or take the grandparent out for a meal.
- If your child is old enough to read, take along a favourite book and take turns reading it to each other. Your child will love showing their favourite book, as well as their reading ability, to their grandparent.
- Pack a new book for the grandparent to read to the grandchild, that they can then take home with them after the visit.
- Watch a movie together (try and pick one that they will both enjoy).
- Play cards or a favourite game.
- Bring along some photos of recent activities to show to the grandparent, and encourage the grandparent to show some old photos and tell the stories behind them to the grandchild.
- Have your child interview their grandparent. Prepare some questions in advance, and either have the child note down the answers or record the whole interview on your phone or iPad. It might be fun to put the interview together as a presentation with photos, and present it to the grandparent on your next visit.
- Solve puzzles.
- Tell jokes.
- Take the grandparent on a walk at a nearby location and see what you can discover. Getting out in nature can help prevent cognitive decline in older people – find out more here.
- Do a photo shoot with the grandchild and grandparent.
- Have the child draw a picture of the grandparent – and the grandparent might even oblige by drawing a picture of the child!
- Draw your family tree and get the grandparent to fill in some interesting history for the child.
- Have a tea party. Don’t forget to dress up!
- Have your child show their grandparent how to play a favourite game on a tablet or smartphone.
- Bring along a craft activity that both will enjoy. For instance, your child could decorate a picture frame with their grandparent, then take a photo of both together and present it to the grandparent on your next visit.
- If pets are allowed at the aged care facility, consider bringing your (well-behaved) pet along to interact with the grandparent. Older people often love interacting with pets, and it has great benefits for both their physical and mental health. You can read more about how pets bring enormous benefits to aged care residents here.
- Bring some supplies along and make an ice cream sundae in the grandparent’s room.
- Play 20 questions.
- Make some homemade jewellery for each other to wear.
- Allow the grandchild to show off something new they have learned at school, or a skill they have been practicing.
- If the child has participated in sporting events recently, show videos to the grandparent of their game or event.
- Tell a “continuous story”, where each person makes up one sentence of a story, then the next person comes up with the next sentence, and so on.
Where possible, try and stay around to help bridge the generational gap between the grandparent and grandchild. You can help your child communicate, suggest activities and keep an eye out for signs of fatigue on the part of either the grandparent or child.
After the visit
Once the visit is over, spend a bit of time helping your child process their feelings after seeing their grandparent. If illness or disability is a factor in the move, the child may feel sad seeing their beloved grandma or grandpa in bed and unable to participate in their usual activities. Reassure them that the grandparent is in the best place to get their needs met, and honestly but compassionately answer any questions they may have.
If your young child has behaved well, give them plenty of praise for their behaviour. If not, offer some suggestions as to what they might be able to do better next time. If your child is a bit older, they can probably appreciate how they have been able to contribute to their grandparent’s life, and can feel good about their effort.
Try and help aged care visits to grandparents to be something your child looks forward to, so that they can create many more cherished memories of this time they are able to spend together.