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Connecting the Generations at Family Gatherings

Intergenerational bonding doesn't always "just happen."

Grandmother and granddaughters enjoy a photo album

This time of year, families and friends assemble from near and far to celebrate the holidays. What are your family traditions? Chances are that many of these customs were passed down from older family members. And yet, grandparents, great-grandparents and other elderly guests sometimes feel uncomfortable and isolated during the excitement of a reunion and celebration. Chronic health conditions, visual or hearing impairment, mobility challenges and memory loss may prevent them from participating as they once did.

Especially if your family gets together infrequently, younger family members may be unfamiliar with senior relatives and uncertain how to interact with them. During your holiday planning, consider ways to help the generations interact in a meaningful way. Here are five ideas that can help seniors feel a part of the festivities:

Talk with young people ahead of time. Children sometimes fear what they don’t understand. If elderly loved ones are dealing with health challenges, it can help to discuss this with children before the gathering begins. Provide information appropriate to the child’s age, with explanations such as: "Grandpa sometimes forgets things, but he loves to hear about your Little League games. He was quite a baseball player when he was your age!" Enlist the child’s help: "Aunt Helen is so excited to see you again, but she can’t hear you unless you are close to her. Let’s figure out a good place for her to sit at the table." (It may also be helpful to provide a "who's who" reminder for older guests about the identities of young people at the gathering.)

Schedule a team project. Promote intergenerational bonding by having older and younger relatives collaborate on holiday tasks. Ask a grandchild to assist Grandma in making her traditional cranberry salad. Have children and their great-grandmother create a centerpiece around the heirloom vase she received as a wedding gift. Let Grandpa help teens with those "some assembly required" holiday gifts for smaller children.

Bring out the photo albums. Holiday get-togethers are a great time for family and friends to share recollections with the younger generation. Grandparents’ life experiences bring to life events students have learned about in history class. And most kids love to hear tales of their parents’ youthful escapades—did Dad really play mischievous Halloween pranks? Is that Mom with the big hair and cheerleading outfit? Grandparents and grandchildren could take the opportunity to create a digital family album, complete with names and information that future generations will appreciate.

Mind the technology gap. Many seniors are quite at home with computers, smartphones, social networking and the like. But others are not, and they may feel left out if the conversation revolves around Facebook, iPods and the latest smartphone acquisition. Encourage young guests to demonstrate their gadgets to elderly relatives. Take a photo of grandparent and grandchild, and send it to another phone. Bring up a YouTube video of a child’s school concert. Maybe Grandpa can be convinced to set up a Facebook account? In any case, consider establishing a no-texting zone once the turkey carving begins. The young folks will survive having their devices powered off for a few hours.

Help your home accommodate senior guests. Make unobtrusive alterations to the home environment that will allow for greater interaction with guests who have visual, hearing or mobility impairment. Arrange furniture to clear a path for loved ones who use a walker or cane. Remember that background music makes it harder for people with hearing aids to understand conversations. Help loved ones with visual impairment select a seat that is closer to the action.

A little planning and awareness goes a long way to ensuring that each member of your holiday gathering enjoys the festivities. Senior guests will appreciate your caring. And through the years, younger family members will recall the respect and empathy you demonstrated and will be more likely to make it a part of their own holiday traditions.


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.

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