Children have the power to cheer up the elderly like no one else. It’s easy to be with grandparents and older friends who are still vibrant and active, but what about those who are older and less able to participate? Wise parents will give their little ones plenty of opportunities to brighten the lives of these individuals. Here are five ways you can help make that happen.
1. Ask your kids to help keep great-grandma company when she’s in your home
We saw the joy this can bring when our mother, in her late 80s and experiencing dementia, was sitting alone in the living room while the rest of the family was busy preparing a big family dinner. She could no longer carry on a conversation. Her body and mind were gradually shutting down, but still we included her when the family got together. On this particular day she was just sitting, seemingly unaware of the rest of the world. So we asked our 4-year-old granddaughter, Stacy, to keep Grandma company. She quickly got an idea, left the room and came back with the kids’ box of dress-up clothes. She said, “Great-grandma, would you like to play dress-up?” We peaked around the corner and were surprised to see her face light up as she answered, “Yes.”
Stacy went to work. It was a priceless scene. She put a lace shawl around grandma’s shoulders, then draped a fluffy pink boa around her neck, and on her feet she placed the fancy slippers. Next came the jewelry with layers of necklaces and bracelets. Then bright ribbons in her hair. After each addition Stacy stood back and said, “Grandma, you look soooo pretty!” She responded with a big smile each time and said, “Thank you, dear.” Stacy brought a hand mirror so she could see herself. She laughed right out loud with pure delight. And so did Stacy. It was the most fun this grandma had had in a long time. Only a child could make it happen. They have an in-born power to brighten the lives of the elderly.
2. Visit great-grandparents in their homes
Give your children the chance to know their great-grandparents, great-aunts, and uncles. What a gift of love this is for these aging loved ones. When a great-grandchild comes to visit, snuggles near and says, “I love you, Grandma (or Grandpa),” it will make her day. It can be fun to take a favorite picture story book for the child to read to the grandparent. Or, the grandparent can read it to the child. Both will love it. Teach your child to patiently listen to the stories these dear relatives tell, even if he's heard them many times before. These will become treasured memories as your child grows.
3. Take your children to visit a care center for the elderly
Maybe you don’t have great-grandparents or elderly relatives living nearby. Not to worry, go find some. There are plenty at the care centers for them to visit. This is a great way for children to learn to care about and value older people. Several years ago we took a few of our small grandchildren to visit a care center for the elderly. It was Christmastime and we wanted them to share the spirit of Christmas with these mostly bed-bound residents. After making gingerbread cookies we packaged a few on decorated plates and off we went. With the staff’s permission we visited a few rooms. The children would sing a carol then present the plate of cookies and wish the occupant a Merry Christmas. Things went well at the first two rooms, with recipients happily responding with thank you’s and good wishes.
The third room was different. A very elderly man lay in his bed with a scowl on his face, his head propped up slightly. The children entered hesitantly and began the routine song. He sat up and shouted, “Get out of here!” It scared the children and they ran back into the hall. One of the children took the plate of cookies and bravely went back in. We were stunned at what we saw her do. She went right up to him and said, “Mister, we came to wish you a Merry Christmas and that’s what we’re going to do." Then she started to sing the song to him. The others gained courage and joined her. He didn’t move. Then she handed the cookies to him and said, “Merry Christmas.”
To our surprise, he took it, smiled, and said, “Thank you very much! Merry Christmas to you, too.” I don’t know how many adults would have gone back as this child did. She was on a mission and no one was going to take it from her. She was there to cheer the elderly and that’s exactly what she did.
4. Visit elderly neighbors
If you have elderly folks living in your neighborhood take your young children to visit them occasionally. Encourage your child to tell them about what he or she has been doing. Have your child take a picture she or he may have colored to show or give to them. If these folks are not able to get around much, they will cherish these visits.
5. Look for opportunities to say hello
When you are shopping or doing other activities outside the home, pay attention to elderly people you see. Take the time to give a friendly hello. Your children will catch on and start doing the same thing. You can encourage them to wave and smile. The elderly especially respond to a greeting from a child. It may be the only ray of sunshine that comes to a lonely soul that day.
Giving your children these opportunities will not only cheer up the elderly, but will be a bright spot in your children’s lives. They will learn to look outside themselves and meet the needs of others who yearn for a little loving attention.