Senior Viewpoint: Elders + Youth Increase Happiness Quotient, by Barb Dupras

What can be sweeter than a tender, intimate moment shared between a grandchild and the grandparent, or a senior and a young one? This contact not only brings delight to the child but also a cherished moment for the senior. Why is this so important, especially in today’s world, and how can we nurture or create these experiences today?

Generations ago, having extended family was part of life; those relationships grew and developed over a lifetime. In today’s world, with people living thousands of miles away from each other, it is more difficult to maintain those relationships in a close way. The intimacy and learning can be lost.

There is now more awareness of the importance for the younger generation to learn about the different stages of life through contact with the elderly. And because of the age difference, children learn important social skills. So activities have been created to give children who wouldn’t ordinarily have this opportunity time with older adults.

There are a variety of such options here in the U.P. Some churches’ youth programs include trips to nursing homes, particularly around the holidays. A children’s group calls Bingo at Valenti Nursing Home once a month. Foster Grandparents in Gladstone, sponsored by Escanaba’s Community Action Board, brings grandparents into schools to play with and read to children. The Bridges program, run by Pathways Community Mental Health, pairs at-risk youth with developmentally disabled adults in weekly meetings with activities. Marquette’s Peter White Public Library offers the Book Babies program, in which seniors/adults read to youngsters. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Marquette always has openings to match seniors/adults with young people needing that relationship.

Interesting programs across the country are also bringing generations together. One such is All Seasons Preschool in Minnesota. The preschool is housed inside a senior living building, providing daily opportunities for those precious relationships to flourish. All Seasons Preschool’s philosophy is that “. . . quality of life is enhanced when all generations live and work together.” Daily activities with seniors include storytime, active games, cooking, and rhythm band.

Being around the seniors brings out the best behaviors in the children. Just being aware of another’s needs leads children to modify their behavior around the seniors. For example, those who were usually overly active slowed down. Children also learned about the differences in older people – wrinkled skin, white hair, can’t see/hear well, memory problems – learning empathy as a result. Long term studies have also showed improved vocabulary and advanced social skills result from these relationships. All Season Preschool has been so successful overall that developers interested in replicating this model elsewehere have been contacting the school.

As much as the younger generation needs the wisdom and patience of the older generation, the older generation needs the innocence and vitality of the young ones. At All Seasons Preschool, seniors who didn’t usually participate in activities came out of their shells once the children were present. Spending time with children helps to alleviate boredom, loneliness, and feelings of helplessness. How can you be depressed when a lively young one is in your presence?

Margaret Mead stated, “Somehow we have to get older people back close to growing children if we are to restore a sense of community, a knowledge of the past, and a sense of the future.”

As this country values independence, too many people feel dependence is a weakness. Seniors concerned about being a burden on their families do not ask for help. As a result, they tend to isolate, become detached. If we are to handle the increasing proportion of seniors in a life-giving way, we need to prioritize bringing them back into community. Too many seniors are lonely and alone, and too many children are deprived of this vital connection. Playing with electronics is not a substitute for a loving intimate relationship with a wisdom-filled older person.

Those interested in learning more about inter-generational activities may want to explore Generations United (www.generationsunited.org), the only national membership organization devoted to the well-being of the younger and older generation and building bridges between them. More such ideas are also described at http://www.legacyproject.org. Legacy Project is a “big picture learning and social innovation project” that includes community building through activities connecting generations.

So what do grandparents in our community have to say? One grandma who has a close relationship with her young granddaughter discussed the difference between parent-child and grandparent-grandchild relationships. Parents are often distracted with their own worries or have limited time. This grandmother feels that because she is not responsible for her granddaughter 24/7, she is more relaxed, focused and present; she can be at her best with her.

Several grandmothers told me they love to play pretend with their grandchildren. One described how her grandson loves to come into bed with her in the morning to play pretend octopus, whale or other sea creatures or animals together, which builds imagination along with learning. She also loves to sing with her grandson, making sure to sing in his range so he’ll be more comfortable singing along. She also feels it’s important to continue the stories of the past. She tells stories that came from her mother, and talks about what it was like growing up in a different era to educate her grandson on his lineage.

Grandparents have the unique opportunity to pass along their wisdom – in whatever way it comes through. If you are fortunate enough to have a grandchild, have fun nurturing your relationship with him or her, and know you play an important part in shaping a little life!

Barb Dupras is a retired Senior Center social worker and an energy healing practitioner who enjoys living on the Chocolay River

This article was reprinted with permission from the Summer 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Aging, Barb Dupras, elder care

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