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We are an aging population. In 2010, 13 % of the population was over 65. This is a big issue with social, economic, political, and personal ramifications.

Children today can be totally segregated from any elderly people. Grandma is more likely to be in a retirement community than live with her children. And retirement communities, sadly, do not usually have children around. Plus we are a mobile society so the child’s own grandparents may be thousands of miles way. Because people marry later and have children later many children to day will have either no grandparents or elderly grandparents.

A recent question and my answer:

“My children have been exposed to the aging and elderly; both neighbors and my parents (aging, as the kids grow). My son is 13 now and deals well with my often cranky and short-tempered father, now 80. My daughter is 11 and has expressed to me that she is not “comfortable with old people.” She has a good but kind of emotionally distant relationship with my parents. My mother is 78 and a pistol, so she is easier for my daughter to deal with. My father is more frail and doesn’t make interesting conversation. Any hints on how to foster this relationship for as long as it is able to continue?”

“I am really glad your daughter could express her feelings to you. Dealing with the frail elderly is difficult for most people so caregivers need lots of patience. The elderly can be slow in body movement and speech. What they do talk about can be very remote to an almost teen. Maybe she can make her dealings with your father a sort of project: how can I get him interested in what kids do these days. You might also reminisce with her about what sort of man your father was when you were growing up, his accomplishments and interests. Maybe she could go over old photos with him to spark him up a bit. As long as she is attentive to your parent’s needs (helps them up from a chair, gets them food from a buffet table) and treats them kindly, I would be satisfied for now. You can’t make her change her feelings and you don’t want her to feel guilty when the inevitable happens.”

For parents the challenge is to raise children who are sensitive to all kinds of people and care about the feelings of others. This means your family values empathy, kindness, and helpfulness. You model these characteristics for your children and reward them children with praise when they exhibit these characteristics.

Parents also must make sure their children are exposed to the elderly. I wrote a recent newsletter entitled, “What 90 Looks Like” which described my Aunt Helen’s 90th birthday party in a Chinese restaurant. When the birthday cake was paraded through the room there was applause. Total strangers told her how wonderful she looked at 90 and one little girl wanted her autograph on a napkin!

No elderly people in your child’s life? “Adopt” some. Invite neighbors to holiday celebrations, Take your children with you when you help out an elderly neighbor.
Children need to know what 90 looks like. And 90’s thrive with contact from children!