Kids, Nursing Homes and How to Help Them Go Together
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.
- 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.
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.