More and more, aging or elderly seniors are choosing to cohabitate with their adult children – and their growing families. This has a big impact on everyone, but especially so for the smallest family members – young children who may take longer to adjust to the “new normal” at home.
Even the most easy going children can get frustrated or confused with these new living arrangements. Maybe they will have to give up their bedroom? Maybe they’re getting less attention? Maybe there have been infrequent visits until now, and Grandma and/or Grandpa seem different?
It’s worth it
Aside from the extra care you can provide for aging parents when they live with you, there are other rewards to this lifestyle change. For example, spending time with grandchildren can help seniors to stay active, improve cognitive skills and reduce depression. Your children will benefit too, learning from the love, care and experiences of their older family members, and gaining compassion in the process.
In order to reap the benefits of your new living arrangements, here are some tips to get your little ones adjusted for the big move-in day.
Talk to your kids way ahead of time about any illness or changes with Grandma and Grandpa before they move in. When small children don’t understand what is going on, they tend to project and make up their own “story” to explain it. If you have not been making regular visits, small children may feel there has been a dramatic change to the people they love.
Talking to little ones often is the best approach. They will need to be reminded if Grandma and Grandpa are more delicate than they used to be, if they will need more quiet, or more rest. Keeping communication open helps them feel at ease and helps them understand they can come speak to you if they have questions in the future, too.
Build a routine
Set a routine or “time limit” for play or visits together in your home. This is especially important for very small children or grandparents with alzheimer’s, because both are susceptible to becoming overtired or overwhelmed. Each case will be different. If you have the company of a healthy, active senior in your home, allow them to dictate when they would like to have some privacy or a break from small children.
Another great way to explain the idea of privacy to your children would be to give them a space that is just their own – and this is especially true if they had to move into a room with another sibling. It can be a special corner, chair, spot in the garden, anything that they can retreat to and experience their own “alone time” when grandparents need a break.
Include the kids
Making your children part of the caregiving process by involving them with simple and helpful tasks is a great way to bond with grandparents. Depending on their age, your children can get involved by making illustrations for Grandma’s room, getting Grandpa his slippers, bringing snacks, folding laundry, or anything else that won’t overwhelm them. If they can handle regular chores, a list on the fridge with stickers can help them remember when they can be thoughtful by helping their grandparents.
It goes without saying, but small children should never be allowed or encouraged to bring medication to grandparents – that’s off limits.
Prepare for difficulties
No matter how much love there is in your family, watching your parents age – and choosing to care for them in your home – can be an emotionally difficult process. Certain illnesses can alter moods, and you may not like the onslaught of advice your new house guests dole out. Remember that how you treat your parents at this time is a blueprint for your children. If you need to be upset, it’s best not to have an all out fight or meltdown in front of your kids (easier said than done).
Small children should also know how to get help if a grandparent is in an emergency in or outside of your home, if a grandparent falls, won’t wake up, can’t speak properly, or other symptoms of serious illness or distress.
By setting up a routine, keeping communication open and involving your small children with daily care, living with your aging parents at home can be emotionally fulfilling for all members of your family, great and small.