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The Importance of the Grandparent Relationship and Fostering It.

Updated on April 22, 2018
mulberry1 profile image

I've worked with the elderly and people with special needs for 20+ years. I have an awareness of some of the things that might help them.


In the Beginning Children and Grandparents Were The Perfect Combination

Many, many years ago, families stayed close together throughout their lifetimes. Whether it was due to the difficulty of traveling hundreds of miles or the need to stick together in order to find adequate food, shelter, and security, most families consisted of at least 3 generations. If they didn't live in the same home, they lived within the same community.

Children were raised by parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They became accustomed to seeing both younger adults and the elderly in their separate roles. They were well acquainted with the aging process and it was accepted.The elderly were respected for their knowledge and the younger folks helped to meet the needs of their grandparents as they aged. (Except in some societies where they were carted off into the wilderness and left to die.) Social isolation during our later years was less of an issue as families remained closer.

The beauty of this relationship was that children could benefit from the wisdom of their elders, develop a sense of respect, compassion, and caring for seniors, as well as learn from experience that aging is an acceptable process. Parents on the other hand had the assistance of the elders in the work of caring for their family, while the elderly were allowed to be useful and to experience the joy that children can bring.


The Separation of Children and Grandparents

Over time of course families have changed. Many children have little involvement with their grandparents. With the ease of travel making relocation simple and job opportunities often calling families away from their birth home, families have increasingly been separated from their elderly relatives.

Despite cell phones, e-mail, and the relative ease of traveling back to see a grandparent on special occasions, these types of interactions do limit the quality of the relationship between children and elderly family members. Even for those children who have grandparents in their lives, a separation often occurs once illness or disability begins to enter the picture. It's rare for families to have the resources available to bring a senior family member into their own home to better accommodate their growing needs if there's any significant cognitive or physical difficulty. The elderly in these situations are therefore isolated, often living their lives in some type of assisted living environment that the family visits less frequently.

Although this separation often occurs for understandable reasons, it would seem that actively working to increase the connection between children and grandparents, or at least children and the elderly in general, would be wise for the following reasons:

  • To develop a sense of compassion and caring

    Children who learn from a young age to care for others tend to grow into caring adults. Caring for pets, for the needy, for the elderly, or others can have a long lasting influence on the character development of kids.
  • To improve the lives of the elderly

    For an elderly individual, the stimulation of having kids around can help with keeping them mentally sharp and engaged. It can lessen depression in instances where social isolation has become a problem.
  • To improve social acceptance of aging

    Many children end up having a bias toward the elderly. From viewing the aged as mean, weak, or ignorant to simply finding them socially unacceptable, many children grow up avoiding the elderly and even ridiculing them. The best way to combat this is to assure that children have plenty of opportunities from a young age onward to become better acquainted with older individuals.

    Including the elderly in the lives of younger children not only assures a more ready acceptance of such individuals in later life but the benefits potentially go beyond this. If children see elderly individuals dealing with disabilities and continuing on with their lives as either productive, happy, or loving individuals, then they will be more accepting of this process in their own lives in later years as they age.

    One example is the acceptance of assistive devices. Many adults reject the idea of using a cane or walker to maintain their balance. It's an aid to help them stay mobile and safe but they reject it as socially unacceptable many times because it indicates disability. These same individuals accept a TV remote control without hesitation despite the fact that it performs a function they should be able to perform on their own without such an assistive device. The difference? One has been present since their childhood and is viewed as acceptable, the other has not. Perhaps if more children were accustomed to seeing walkers routinely, and seeing the individuals who use them as great people, their opinions and outlook would be different.
  • To provide grandchildren with another source of support and wisdom

    For some kids, grandparents can be another person to turn to when there is adversity. Someone in addition to their parent or parents to cheer them on, to help problem solve a difficult situation, to assist with homework, to share wisdom, and more.


Ideas for Connecting Children and Grandparents or the Elderly

  1. From the start, one of the best methods for teaching and getting children involved with the elderly is to be a good role model. It's also important to include kids in your efforts. Even if your involvement requires a visit to a local nursing home, taking the little ones along can be beneficial in many instances.
  2. A child's involvement will obviously vary according to his age. Young children can be encouraged to make cards or small gifts on special occasions for grandparents or elderly neighbors. At this stage parents can also be alert to any shows or movies that are viewed which include elderly individuals. Discussing the positive and negative images seen can be beneficial. For small children without other experiences, seeing a gruff old man or a bumbling, somewhat senile individual portrayed in a movie can create a rather lasting impression.
  3. Encourage quality interactions. Even for children with grandparents it can be important to assure there are positive and lasting impressions being formed. Getting the elderly to share a hobby can be educational and fun for both; sewing, knitting, cooking, baking, woodworking, birding, gardening, photography, stamp or coin collecting, are just a few ideas. Even reading can be a shared interest. The earlier these types of interactions start the better.
  4. In the case of grandparents, many families neglect to involve them in other family activities such as school competitions and events or other activities such as a day trip or vacation. All of these are opportunities to improve the bond and the understanding between children and grandparents or their other elderly relatives.
  5. As children begin to grow, they can be encouraged to help when grandparents require assistance. For a child living nearby, they might be encouraged to help with a task; decorating for the holidays, snow removal, or something else. For kids who live a greater distance, then this would obviously look a bit different. Perhaps a periodic call or e-mail to say hello and to see how things are going. In some instances, somewhat older grandkids are great candidates for helping seniors less acquainted with tech in setting up, understanding, and problem solving issues with computers, cell phones and other gadgets.
  6. Investigate technology that can help older kids stay in touch with grandparents who live a bit further away. Obviously text messaging is one option. Including grandparents on at least one social media site can make it easy to stay up-to-date, share photos, etc. Certainly e-mail, chatting, and video chat sessions make connecting easy. Video calling, Skyping, FaceTime, etc. are all viable alternatives as well. If an elderly loved one is less welcoming of technology then a digital photo frame that connects to social media can allow families to have images posted online automatically display on these frames.
  7. Older kids can also be encouraged to help out with elderly neighbors. From occasional visits, to picking up mail, taking trash to the curb, assisting with snow removal, and so forth, they can establish a relationship and provide real help when it's needed.
  8. There are also a number of activities that church groups and schools can be encouraged to participate in to engage children and teenagers with the elderly. From caroling and other entertainment functions to planned visits that provide socialization, many youth programs can find willing participants in such facilities. Even as individuals, there are often volunteer opportunities to help with recreational activities scheduled within a variety of senior communities as well as more unstructured social situations. Even volunteering in local hospitals and rehab centers can be useful to encourage the concept of giving and being more accustomed to people with special needs and those using assistive devices.
  9. Schools can also be encouraged to pair up with Senior Centers to develop programs that pair students with individual seniors. An example of one such project is the e-pal project described in this Education World article. Such initiatives can go a long way in improving understanding and establishing positive relationships.
  10. For teenagers seeking a first job, it would certainly be worthwhile to consider working within an organization that provides senior services. For many, the opportunity to interact with the elderly and to perform a service that is "meaningful" generates more interest than say, flipping burgers. Working as an aide within a nursing home, a "transporter" within a larger hospital, a recreational assistant in a senior community, or even as delivery for various health related supplies and devices are just a few examples.

© 2009 Christine Mulberry


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    • jravity1 profile image

      jravity1 5 years ago from bellevue, MI

      I am glad to see when grandparents really try to connect with there grandchildren. With growing trends in fashion and style, its hard to really understand what kids are trying to express.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @mulberry1...Nice work on this Hub!

      Yes, grandparenting is very rewarding, but even better was the grandparenting I experienced long ago in my growing years when, as you point out, several generations lived together, or in nearby communities, and the family unit consisted of children, parents, grandparents, and sometimes great-grandparents, as well.

    • Brinafr3sh profile image

      Brinafr3sh 6 years ago from West Coast, United States

      Hi Mulberry,

      Agreed, it's true children who help their grandparents, do grow up to be caring adults. Grandparents = Love

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 7 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I enjoyed this hub. I agree with everything you've said. You have a lot of strong points in here. And sitting around 'talking story' as we say in Hawaii is important, too. This is something that our great-grandparents and their parents and those before them -- did. Wisdom and humor were passed down and passed around during these storytelling times. Children knew their grandparents. They were able to really love their grandparents because they knew them well.

      It is so challenging to stay close to our dear grandchildren if they are living in a faraway city, but there are ways -- as you've mentioned -- to bridge the distance sometimes and it's well worth the effort.

    • dawnM profile image

      Dawn Michael 7 years ago from THOUSAND OAKS

      Hi mulberry, I loved your article so much! I made sure when I got married that my husband knew if we had kids that my parents would be a huge part of their lives. We did have kids and from the moment they were born, my parents and my husband’s parents have been a huge part of their lives. I think that it is so important for all of the reasons that you stated to keep the grandparents involved. My children have benefited already in so many ways by being loved and cherished by their grandparents. When my dad got ill with cancer we moved our family to be 1 mile away and the kids say him every day until he passed.

      My mom spends at least 4 days a week with the kids now on her own. Grandparents are a blessing

    • PaperNotes profile image

      PaperNotes 7 years ago

      I was raised up by my grandmother because she was the one who took care of me while I was young when my parents go to work. I love my grandmother so much!Now that I also have a child of my own, I want her to be close to my grandmother and my parents too that even if we live far from them, I try to always bring my daughter for a visit even once a week.

    • rls8994 profile image

      rls8994 8 years ago from Mississippi

      A special bond between grandparents and children is one of the best things in life. I have so many special memories of me and my grandparents. I believe they had a big part in helping me become the person I am today.

    • Amy M profile image

      Amy M 8 years ago from Manzano Mountains

      What a great hub. I live 1200 miles from my grandchildren and it is very difficult. I get to see tham about once a year. That is no where near enough.

    • ryan0257 profile image

      ryan0257 9 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I believe whole heartedly in the benefits of connecting with the elders of the family and the community. It is great for education of family values and beliefs and nothing beats experience in any aspect of life.

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 9 years ago from USA

      Very good hub with lots of fair points.  There are many advantages when several generations and branches of the same family live close to each other (not necessarily together in one house, but very close). Bonds are very valuable. I was lucky to grow up with my cousins, so even now I refer to them as my "brother and sister". My 80 yo mother lives with me and I will never put her into a nursing home or like this. She raised me, now it's my turn to pay her back, right? I also see what a good impact it has on my son, he is very affectionate with Grandma and helpful any time she needs.

    • lafenty profile image

      lafenty 9 years ago from California

      With many families living far apart these days it's hard to stay close, but so important. My kids weren't able to spend nearly enough time with their grandparents, and now they are gone. But I am very fortunate to play a big part in my grandchildren's lives and hope I always will be able to. Thanks for the informative and important message in your hub.

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 9 years ago

      Great article, especially your thoughts and suggestions for connecting children with the elderly. Those without grandparents are missing a unique relationship. My children enjoyed the wisdom of not only their grandparents but also great-grandparents. Being a grandparent is the reward of parenthood.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

      Mulberry, Nice hub with good advice on ways kids can connect with older adults. I find family to one of the most important things in the world! We need to stay connected!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi mulberry, if you haven't read your email yet, this hub is chosen as one of the hubnuggets for this week. Congratulations! Shirley explains more in her hub: and you can vote there too. Hey, do invite your friends to participate. Doesn't have to be a member in order to vote.

      There is indeed much value in nurturing the relationships of grandparents and the kids. I suddenly miss my grandma and grandpa. But I treasure those memories. I adopted G-Ma as my grandma in hubpages. LOL And there are many of them - wonderful grandparents here. I'm blessed to be sharing and connecting with them too. :-)

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 9 years ago

      Yes, indeed we generally don't change as we age. Our "souls" are ageless. I'm glad your parents were able to be an active part of your kids' lives.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      A lovely way of putting it Lisa - that's how I felt about my grandparents too.

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 9 years ago from Massachusetts

      My children had their two grandmothers and one grandfather for quite a while (not long enough, of course). They, like their parents, did have to witness the decline of their previously, reasonably, strong and healthy grandparents - and that isn't always the most positive experience (although they do learn from it).

      I think, though, that the very important things they learned from their grandparents was that people in their 70's or 80's are often the ones who will be the "hero" in one way or another. My kids saw the strength and stability of their grandparents, and they saw in them people who were so, so, loving - it had to have its substantial impact. They learned what so many people never seem to learn, which is that even people who need things like canes or walkers often remain very much "the same" people they've always been. They just sometimes need a younger arm to grab when out and around.

      Learning aside, when grandparents and grandchildren stay close there's just all that much move "flying through the air" and wrapping up all involved in a great sense of closeness. I'm so glad my kids had at least three of their four grandparents.

    • irenemaria profile image

      irenemaria 9 years ago from Sweden

      I couldn´t agree more! i have 7 beautiful grandchildren - for now....=)

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I agree, it's great

    • anjalichugh profile image

      anjalichugh 9 years ago from New York

      It really teaches kids the meaning of family support system. They learn what it means to be with the family in thick and thin. Very nice hub.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I was lucky enough to see a lot of my grandparents (apart from my paternal grandfather, who died before I was born).

      And my son sees a lot of his. He only has 2, my parents, but he sees both at least twice a week, and we stay with them quite a lot too. In fact, my mother was here this evening for dinner.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      I LOVE being a grandmother. Especially as I've never had kids, so I've never had to deal with that stuff. Nope: going straight to grandmotherhood rocks! Great hub. Other cultures find ways of including Grandma in the home: Spain, Japan are two places where the older generation are very much a part of the community and the family, too.