By Lauren Hill
The arrival of grandchildren into our lives is a pleasure like none other. All grandparents love to spend time with their grandchildren and look forward to doing so. Keeping up with the boundless energy of these youngsters is a challenge that many grandparents don’t anticipate and therefore aren’t prepared for. For many of the people I’ve talked to over the years, it comes as a surprise just how hard it is to keep up with grandkids. Aging grandparents and grandparents with health concerns often find it especially challenging to share quality time with very young grandchildren. There are ways to work around these challenges and still spend lots of time with the youngest members of your family.
1. Ask grandchildren and grandparents what they’d like to do.
Sometimes solving the matter of appropriate activities is as simple as asking the right questions. Older adults are very aware of what their limitations are and so they can identify what activities they feel most comfortable doing. Toddlers and other young children often don’t understand the limitations of grandparents. A grandmother with diabetes may not eat the same kinds of foods that a youngster is used to and a grandfather with arthritis won’t be able to play tag. Explaining the nature of an older adult’s limitations can be very helpful and may spark some creative ideas.
It’s important to select activities that are appealing to both grandparents and grandchildren. Reading books together, listening to a favorite kids’ music CD, or throwing a ball for the family dog to fetch are simple activities that can be enjoyed together.
2. Make together time part of your daily routine
Many older adults have a particular schedule of shopping, doing errands, and exercise; routines are very important and can help support a healthy lifestyle. If possible, consider bringing children along on these excursions. Children can help select produce at the grocery store and will enjoy walking around the block with their grandparents. Light bike riding and speed walking are two other healthy activities that grandparents and grandkids can do together. Some youngsters I’ve met enjoy strolling with their grandparents because it’s easy to keep up with them.
3. Reading together
All kids love having books read to them and grandparents make great storytellers. Select books with a typeface that is large enough to be clearly read; most children’s books have relatively large letters so this shouldn’t be difficult. If a grandparent experiences pain after sitting for a long period of time, make sure to select books that can be finished quickly. Longer books can be marked with a bookmark and returned to at a later date.
A grandparent with sight impairment or difficulty reading aloud may enjoy listening to audio books. Visit your local public library to find audio books appropriate for your child’s reading age. You can usually find children’s audio books in a special section of the library.
4. Have dinner as a family
There are many health conditions that can impact the daily dietary choices of an older adult. As a result dinner at grandma and grandpa’s house may look different than what your kids are used to. Finding common ground between the diet of a young child and the diet of an older adult can be tricky. Planning a family meal well in advance can remove much of the stress that might otherwise surround a dinner together. Make some dishes beforehand or bring certain foods along with you when traveling to the grandparent’s home to help the child feel more comfortable.
Grandparents living in assisted care facilities often eat together in a dining room where special diets can be easily accommodated. It’s usually possible to join your family member for lunch or dinner in the resident dining room if advance notice is given to the management. This is one way to have a nice meal that everyone can enjoy while remaining in an environment that is safe and supportive for elderly family members.
5. Spend the afternoon at a neighborhood park
Parks are great places for grandparents and grandkids to visit together. These spaces are usually very accessible so mobility devices, walkers, and canes can be used on most of the primary park surfaces. If mobility and having a place to sit is a concern for a particular grandparent, look around your city for a park that gives the children ample space to run around and that also has shady areas for grandparents to sit. Bring some snacks and an umbrella and enjoy an afternoon together at the park.
Grandparents want to spend time with the youngest members of their family, no matter how old they get. By taking into consideration the limitations of the grandparents in your family and the needs of the little ones, you can come up with many opportunities for family togetherness.
Lauren Hill writes for Lakewood Manor, a continuing care retirement community in Richmond, Virginia. Take some time to look around at their many options of apartments, cottages and villas.