Closing the Gap Between Young People and the Elderly

One afternoon, my son accompanied me on my visit to my elderly father. Dad made his usual request, and I groaned inwardly. As dearly beloved as Dad is to me, reading the sports pages to him is a task I’d gladly forego. Suddenly, the newspaper was grabbed from my hands, and my preteen eagerly relayed the baseball statistics to Dad. The animated discussion that ensued was awe-inspiring.

The magical rapport between a boy and his grandfather

     Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

The delightful bonding between a young boy and an aging man, made me ponder the potential relationships between young people and the elderly. Many of us are on the proverbial treadmill, racing between children, elderly parents, and jobs. As card-carrying members of the “sandwich generation”, we find that time is at a premium. We try our best, and we learn to accept our limitations.

How can we make up for the limitations borne out of our busy 21st century lifestyles? It’s simple. Let’s bring together our youth and our elderly! They need not be related to each other. Advocates for both children and the elderly are beginning to observe the benefits of forging bonds between these two seemingly disparate generations.

The benefits of developing relationships between the young and the elderly

Some children are fortunate enough to enjoy close associations with their own grandparents. Others befriend their elderly neighbors, or visit residents in nursing homes and community centers.     

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Benefits of Children Connecting with Elderly:

The benefits that children can reap from their interactions with their elders are numerous. To list just a few:

  • Language development: Eager to share stories from their own rich backgrounds, seniors find eager listeners in their young companions. The elderly person forgets his boredom and loneliness, while the child develops language skills. Children can rapidly absorb vocabulary and rules of speech, simply by osmosis. Here are some fun ideas to get the conversation flowing.
  • Self-esteem boosters: The abilities, intelligence, and talents of our elders tend to be concealed. When your child comes along and requests lessons in sewing, singing, drawing, or reading it’s a pleasure for the elder to assist them towards success. Then, in a switch of roles, watch your child demonstrate the latest app on his phone, and express pride in his role as teacher.
  • A listening ear: This is particularly beneficial for a young person who may be experiencing difficulties, and feels a need to talk to someone away from his nuclear family or close friends. The non-threatening sympathy of an elderly person, who is able to focus entirely on the youth, can be a balm to a child and his fears.

What activities can build bridges between the young and the elderly?

A shared pastime is often all that is required to build rapport between the young and the elderly is  Let’s take a look at some examples.

Music

Music is one of those activities that naturally brings people together. Years ago, when my sister and I were in our early teens, we performed at a seniors’ community center. Halfway through our second song, I suddenly felt this compelling urge to giggle. My sister caught on to this immediately, and could not refrain from joining me. I then caught the expression on the face of our Mom, who had joined the audience. Instead of looking angry or embarrassed, she was trying very hard to restrain her giggles! That was it! We managed to continue, but our giggles segued into unrestrained laughter. It was a disaster.

Or so we thought. Afterwards, members of this gracious group of elderly music lovers, came up to us and complimented us on our “merry” performance. As teenagers, we responded so well to this warm acceptance of our silliness that was buried under a shared love of music. Later, we joined the various senior musicians in the audience, and made joyous music together.

Reading

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Reading is a pastime that can bring hours of shared enjoyment to the young and the elderly. The age of the young person, and his ability to read or not, are not important. Our elders adore watching the reactions of children, as they build up the suspense of a story for them. On the other hand, seniors with declining vision, appreciate young people reading to them. They can catch up on the news, or enjoy their favorite novels. Both parties learn to interact socially, children learn to read, and the elderly forget that they were ever lonely.

Yoga

My elderly mom-in-law frequently reminds me that if she hadn’t started Yoga classes at the age of 40, she wouldn’t be able to walk today.

It’s never too late to start. Gentle yoga is completely suitable for seniors, and is simple enough for children. To further entice children into the practice of yoga, many moves and poses have been designed to emulate animals, such as cats, dogs, butterflies, and whales (yes, really). Then there are the helicopters, chairs, and interestingly enough, spaghetti! These poses are guaranteed to create camaraderie, laughter, and of course, health benefits.

Baking and cooking

Many of us have memories of the smells emanating from the kitchens of our grandparents. I was, however, a little envious of my friends whose grandmothers brought them into their kitchens and taught them how to bake and cook. One friend still makes sugar cookies, only with butter, stirring the mixture, as well as the memories of her grandma. Cooking kindles a sense of achievement in both the learning child and the teaching elder, as they peel, stir, knead, chat, and even learn chemistry together.

Nature walks

     Photo by Nicole Arns on Unsplash

The sights, sounds, colors, and smells of a walk outdoors can be the basis of many entertaining games, such as color variations of “I spy”, scavenger hunts, or “Follow the leader”. Nature walks are all the more enjoyable with company, and who better to invite along than grandpa, grandma, or your elderly neighbor? The experience is ideal when the elderly friend or family member has recently spent time in a hospital bed. He is now ready to stretch his legs, and enjoy the scenery that the beauty of nature offers, rather than the sterile walls of a hospital ward.

Let’s get together

When young and old people join forces, inhibitions, prejudices, and social or physical disabilities are briefly thrown by the wayside. These benefits can grow into long term solutions. At the very least, your child can bring light into the life of someone who needs it right now. The chances are quite strong that the resulting impact on your child can lead to his own unforeseen growth and development.

Author : Conor O’Flynn, Commercial Director of O’Flynn Medical who are one of Ireland’s biggest healthcare equipment providers. They provide healthcare advice and services to both the commercial and private sector.

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