Q: How can we parents prepare our children for visiting aging grandparents and great-grandparents at nursing homes?
-- A Mother in Raleigh, N.C.
A: A 3-year-old girl loved to rub cream on her great-grandmother's wrinkled hands, while her cousins told stories, danced and sang during their monthly nursing home visits.
But other sprouts on their family tree seldom brought such joy to their great-grandmother, who had Alzheimer's. The kids were scared to visit, their parents said. And besides, "the place was too depressing."
Children take their cues from their parents. If you approach visits as a dreadful duty, so will your kids. Instead, be upbeat, talk about what to expect, and be creative to connect young and old.
Talk to your child in simple terms about grandma, that her ailments aren't catching, what her limits are, that the visit will brighten her day, suggests a mother from Massachusetts who takes her 3-year-old son on trips to nursing homes.
"Your attitude will help determine your child's comfort," she says. "Emphasize the fun stuff: elevators, gloves to blow into balloons, cool beds that go up and down."
Visits starting early on teach children important lessons, the mother says: "We are always there for the people we love; infirmed people are nothing to be afraid of; and they as children have an amazing ability to make people happy just by showing up and being themselves."
Limit each visit to 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the child.