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Kids, Nursing Homes and How to Help Them Go Together

Updated on January 8, 2018
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


Visits someone in a nursing home provides an opportunity to check on the care and health of the resident. Nursing home visits can involve children to answer questions as to where the family member went, liven up the visit for your relative and provide an example to children to visit elders when they are older.

However, facing disability, infirmity and those at the end of life is difficult for many adults. It is unfathomable for many children. With proper preparation, you can make nursing home visits smooth for both young and old alike.

Don't keep little kids cooped up for long, or they will try to escape. Smooth things out by letting young children play before taking them into the nursing home.
Don't keep little kids cooped up for long, or they will try to escape. Smooth things out by letting young children play before taking them into the nursing home. | Source


  • Plan for adequate supervision of young children. Have at least one adult for each toddler or preschooler unless they will stay strapped into a stroller during the whole visit.
  • Bring stuffed animals, books and other toys that will keep a child occupied without creating a health hazard for anyone else. Do not bring balls, jacks or other items that can cause problems if stepped on.
  • Offer adequate space for children to seek shelter in the arms of a caring adult. Anxiety about unfamiliar settings in addition to the fear of illness or pain can result in a child clinging tightly to Mommy or Daddy. And that is OK. Forcing a child to hug someone who isn’t well or in a frightening state will create a negative impression that can last a lifetime.
  • Keep the visit short, but set the duration on the tolerances of the youngest child. Plan a visit of 10 to 15 minutes if the children are under age 6. Set a maximum time limit of an hour for children up to adulthood.
  • Schedule the visit so that it does not delay nap time for young children.
  • Know the medication schedule and care routine. Then plan your visit time accordingly. The only thing worse than young children seeing Grandpa get an insulin injection is walking in on a sponge bath.
  • Describe the visit as a gift for the resident. Do not describe visiting as a chore, since this will make older children immediately think of it as a burden and boring.
  • Have a list of happy news and accomplishments your child can recite or describe to the elder. This provides positive conversation starters.
  • Bring your own snacks for your kids. Do not take food from the stash of someone in a nursing home, since they have limited financial means and opportunities to get more.
  • If the person is in a nursing home due to medical limitations, discuss the limitations and coping methods before you arrive. If Grandma cannot see well, teach children to say their name before speaking. If Grandpa is hearing impaired, teach your children to speak louder but without yelling in a conversational manner. If someone is in a wheelchair, talk about the rules of using a wheel chair, such as never pushing them where they do not want to go or playing with the brakes.

The author's children and her grandfather
The author's children and her grandfather | Source

After the Nursing Home Visit

  • If the visit has left your children feeling sad or helpless, assign them the task of making get well cards for the person you just visited.
  • Ask your children what questions they have from the visit. Then be quiet and let them ask. Do not minimize their emotional descriptions or confused concerns. Let them talk. Questions I’ve been asked by my young children included, “Are Grandma and Grandpa divorced, since he live there? Why doesn’t Grandpa remember me? Why can’t she hear what I say?” Then answer the questions in age appropriate terms.
  • Let your children come up with questions to ask their elders on the next visit. This can include family history or general history questions. However, these questions should wait until after the adult understands how well the child and the elder interact. If the child is afraid or upset, they aren’t going to ask what the Great Depression or World War 2 was like. If they are unable to behave, trying to get them to ask about deceased family members delays a polite departure.


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  • tamarawilhite profile imageAUTHOR

    Tamara Wilhite 

    8 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

    Another option is to take her right before nap time. Pull out a new or forgotten "cuddle". Let her play with that while drinking juice or a sippy cup of water. Lay out the blanket or nap mat or pillow by that person's bed.

    Then let her take a nap on the floor next to the person you are visiting. Then you can talk quietly while you visit. Or let her lay down and take a nap in a stroller you have.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Those are great ideas. THANK YOU. Would you think im expecting too much for our visits to last 3 hours? She is 2.5. We've been going 3x a week from either 12-3 or 2-5 depending on day. Therefore all we do those days is have naptime 1errand , nursing home, then dinner and bed. I'm exhausted!!!! She's at her limit too judging by her wild behavior today.

  • tamarawilhite profile imageAUTHOR

    Tamara Wilhite 

    8 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

    We run the kids around before we go inside so that they are calmer inside.

    I also found that dropping off a stuffed animal for the person "in the hospital" and then a similar one to the young child conditional upon good behavior can help keep them calm.

    You can also moderate things by taking the child and the elder on a walk. Push the person in a wheelchair outside while your toddler plays in the grass or runs around.

    And keep the visits short. With toddlers, 10 minutes pushing it. For pre-schoolers, no more than 20 minutes.

    You could also bring an activity kit for the child to keep her busy while you're visiting. For example, a doll with hooks, buttons and zippers for a toddler or a new coloring book for a pre-schooler. I let my now nine year old daughter bring a puzzle book. She has to talk to Grandpa for a few minutes about her life. Then she can retreat to a corner and read and do mazes while I spend time with him. My son can do puzzle books or played with pop up books.

    Give the child something age appropriate to do, after wearing him or her out to keep them calm. Then keep the time short enough to fit the child's age and temperament.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Hi I found your article really helpful. My mil has recently gone into assisted living and my near-3 daughter and I are there several times a week for hours at a time managing care and mood and bringing her to various activities within the facility. She is uncomfortable going without us. The alternative to us going with her is that she would sit in her room...all day. I'm exhausted and noticing my daughters behavior deteriorarting rapidly. I arrange her naps around MILs activity wish list and lack of a routine for the toddler is really having an effect not to mention 3 hours of sitting still and being quiet. Today she was wild...we had to go outside for her to run sillies out. I'm growing desperate and I don't know if I'm expecting too much from my daughter and how to manage this better. Ideas??

  • d.william profile image


    9 years ago from Somewhere in the south

    Excellent article. Very thoughtful and wonderful suggestions. As a nurse of many years, sometimes there is nothing worse than your patient having visitors that show up with unruly brats running around aggravating everyone.

    Your article should be standard reading for everyone before visiting anyone in a medical setting.


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