10/5/2022 | By Katharine Ross

Seniors Guide president Katharine Ross presents tips to help bridge the generation gap between kids and elderly family members, improving cross-generational communications and relationships.

There are rich benefits to children having relationships with the older folks in their life – with their grandparents or a great aunt, or sometimes even older neighbors. Building a relationship between the generations serves both sides of the generation gap. The elderly are enriched and take joy in seeing the young people grow, develop, and experience life. The children get access to a wider breadth of experience. They get to hear stories from days before their time and to learn from the challenges of others. This helps them build perspective on both their struggles and their joys. These connections invigorate the spirit of family and community.

Building such relationships can be challenging because children may not always relate to older folks. They may be intimidated by appearances or mobility challenges or health situations. Sometimes the kids can even be a little bit scared.

Supporting cross-generational communications

Cross-generational communications can be tough, so here are some tips on bridging the generation gap between kids and older members of your family.

1. Prepare for the visit

The first thing I like to do with my child when we’re going to visit to an older family member is suggest topics ahead of time. This gets his wheels spinning before he walks in the room, before any of that intimidation hits him. This way, he’s better prepared to enjoy the conversation.

For example, I’ll remind my son of a recent football game and how much Grandma would enjoy hearing that story. Or I’ll talk about a recital that he was in and whether or not that would be a good topic. I may suggest talking about school and his favorite teacher, his classes, a favorite friend, and so on.

I might even give him some questions to ask the older family member: about their favorite vacations or favorite childhood memories, or times they were bullied as a kid and how they handled it. I might mention some of their shared experiences and help them relate that way.

It’s also helpful to let the children express themselves – for example, if they’re nervous or they’re scared or if there’s anything that makes them uncomfortable. That gives you a chance to identify with them and hear their concerns.

2. Bring things to show and tell

While you and the child are visiting, you can encourage cross-generational communications by preparing for some sort of show-and-tell experience. This works especially well for kids aged 6 and under because it gives them something visual, which stirs an emotional reaction and their enthusiasm for the discussion. This also gives the grandparent a visual to focus on during the exchange.

Trophies, photos, artwork, graded schoolwork, and crafts all make great objects for show and tell. The avenues of conversation this approach can open up will surprise you. My son lit up at the age of 4 as he showed his great-grandmother (aged 94) pictures of the Halloween costume he had worn just a week prior. Then she told him about costumes she wore as a child in the early 1920s and costumes that she made for her children in the 1950s, including for his grandmother. Shared experiences and storytelling provide a solid foundation for building relationships, and the joy felt in moments like these is just priceless.

You can also share photos, displayed in an album, on a tablet, or via a TV screen. Oftentimes, showing pictures on a TV is the best approach to accommodate vision issues, and it ensures that everyone in the room can enjoy the photos together. You can show the pictures on a TV screen using several methods. For example, you can cast (send) the images from your phone or your tablet or use an HDMI cable to make the connection. You can also use a flash drive or other digital storage to connect to the TV.

3. Do arts and crafts together.

Three generations of family playing cards. Iakov Filimonov Dreamstime. Six tips help bridge the generation gap between kids and elderly family members, for cross-generational communications and relationships.

By planning ahead, you can bring out craft projects that the elderly family member and child can do together. This can include photo albums, seasonal crafts, art kits, handprint kits, and more. Amazon has plenty of options and inspiration on crafts projects for you to explore and enjoy.

4. Play games.

Games offer a fun platform for cross-generational communications. Few activities encourage bonding like game playing, from card games such as Rummy, War, Crazy Eights, or Go Fish to fun, engaging games like Heads Up and Charades. There are even video games that are easy for the child and an older adult to play together. I have seen the competitive spirit really come out when Wii games are played across the generations.

Related: Funny games for game night

5. Introduce fun topics of discussion.

During the visit, you could suggest discussing your child’s favorite book or favorite movie or a show the child loves. Talk about which characters they like and why. Discuss what challenges those characters face. You can ask if that grandparent or other elderly family member has ever faced similar challenges. That gives them a chance to relate based on the senior family member’s history.

Think about what really brightens your child up when they’re talking to you, and then try to help transfer that experience to their communications with grandparents or elderly family members.

6. Make a social media connection.

For older children (where appropriate), connect the child and adult on social media. This helps them stay connected. The child can see pictures of Grandmom enjoying some sort of activity at her assisted living community, or Granddad can see that the child has played soccer recently. This can help them stay connected to each other, giving them easy conversation fodder for the next visit.

Cross-generational communications benefit the entire family while supporting a child’s development. The benefits linger as children grow into adulthood, remembering positive interactions with elders and some of the lessons their beloved seniors shared. The best way to put kids at ease is to be at ease yourself, and take joy in each other’s company.

These tips can help to bridge the generation gap and encourage meaningful connections.

Katharine Ross

Katharine Ross joined Seniors Guide in 2001 and has been helping seniors and caregivers find the resources they need ever since. She’s had a front row seat to the industry’s evolution in preparing for the demands of baby boomers, and she’s seen how caring and effective providers have navigated the challenges of contemporary society. She wants to empower seniors and caregivers to create their best lives by having access to the accurate, useful information. When she’s not working, Ross is chasing her son across ski slopes and bike trails.