What’s a January-December friendship? It’s when a senior forms a bond with someone, other than their grandchildren. These relationships are not only beneficial to the children but can also encourage seniors to be more active and take better care of themselves as well as give them greater purpose in life.

january-decemberYou may have read the story about the little girl who spotted the lonely older man in the grocery store and said, “Hello.” It was young Norah’s birthday that day, and sensing that the senior needed a friend, she asked him to pose for a photo with her to celebrate her big day.

That simple gesture gave Dan, who had recently lost his wife, a reason to smile again. The two have been friends ever since, with the preschooler paying the octogenarian weekly visits and celebrating his birthday with him. Norah and her parents treat Dan like one of the family, which they say has given him “a new lease on life.” Read more.

If you don’t have family in the area or in your life, striking up a relationship with a young child has the potential to yield endless benefits. The most obvious, of course, is preventing isolation, which can be dangerous for both your physical and your emotional health.

However, intergenerational companionship can also push you to be more active, motivate you to take better care of yourself and just give you a reason to get up in the morning. And you’re not the only one reaping the benefits. The children are also learning from you, receiving support and gaining an extra, heaping portion of love (no one should ever pass that up!).

As a childless person, I’ve always envied my friends who have grandkids and wished there was a way to adopt one of my own. To fill this void, I’ve read to kindergartners, participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and volunteered for childcare at my church and for a foster care organization.

But there are many other ways to create these special connections with younger folks. For example, many communities have Adopt-A-Grandparent programs, which match seniors with young children or teens, so the friends can spend time together and get the seniors involved in family activities and holiday celebrations, etc. In L.A., a buddy program takes third graders into senior living communities once a month, where the children interview the seniors and write stories about their lives.

Then there are those random, completely unexpected connections that can happen out in the world, like what happened between young Norah and her new friend Dan. Sometimes parents simply need to ignore that old rule about not talking to strangers. There could be one of the most powerful relationships of their kids’ lives awaiting them!

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