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Connecting the Generational Dots

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Nurturing family connections is beneficial for old and young alike. Try these creative ways to strengthen bonds.

The once tight-knit family has slowly been unraveling over the last 50 years, especially in America. In an effort to stop this trend of disconnection and strengthen the family bond, children of aging parents are finding new and creative ways to encourage activities and conversations between young and old.

Here are some suggestions on how to bridge the generational gap and encourage younger ones to get (and stay) connected with their aging grandparents.

Find Common Ground

Is mom a crafts maker? Does dad play a musical instrument? Hobbies are a terrific way to help create an immediate connection. With a little pre-planning you can coordinate a multi-generational Christmas card making party or a rockin’ jam session.

What if the children don’t participate in any creative pastimes? Many of our aging parents have hobbies that are unique skills the younger generations should be introduced to: sewing, woodworking, knitting, crocheting and model building to name a few. Keep these skills alive in the family by encouraging your parents to teach them to the kids and grandkids.

Close the Gap with Technology

Have you been trying to convince your parents to use technology? Here’s a great way to motivate them: Do it for the grandkids!

Let the children be the ones to help set-up Skype or Facetime. Offer to coordinate several “how-to” sessions. This not only creates the opportunity for multiple visits, it helps break down modern technology into smaller, more manageable steps, so your senior parents aren’t overwhelmed.

Keep It Old School

On the flip side of technology is good old-fashioned snail mail. It still exists. And it’s an excellent way to open doors for communication. Writing letters and sending cards (on more than special occasions) is helpful if families don’t live close. It’s also a great way for the not-so-talkative person to communicate with her elders.

Create care packages of stationary, envelopes and a book of stamps for everybody (including yourself). If the (great) grandkids are younger, try postcards or have them draw pictures with a brief note. Everybody enjoys getting something in the mailbox other than junk!

Start a Book Club

If there are family members who enjoy reading, start a book-of-the-month club. Take turns choosing books to read. Although the types of literature each generation enjoys may not be the same, learning what interests one another through book choice is a unique way to connect on a deeper level.

Make It a Routine

The best way to encourage strong connections between the generations is to make interactions a part of the regular routine.

Whether it’s Taco Tuesday twice a month, Sunday brunch after church, or game night at the Assisted Living Community a habit eventually becomes a natural part of life. Michelle Woo, writer and editor for the Lifehacker website shares how she complained when her father started insisting she call her grandmother every Sunday evening. Once the calls became a part of her routine, she enjoyed the excitement she heard in her grandmother’s voice. “No one ever has been as consistently enthusiastic about hearing my voice,” Woo shares.

Developing strong connections between the generations has so many benefits. Young adults and children get a better understanding of their cultural heritage and realize the importance of maintaining strong family bonds. And for older adults the benefits effect their physical well-being. A study from the Journal of Activities, Adaptation, and Aging found that elderly people who participate in intergenerational programs report an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem, improved social skills and that the connections with younger people “contributed to their emotional and overall health and well-being, and enabled them to learn about others and feel connected to their community.