Caring for your children and an aging parent at the same time can be challenging, especially if your kids are confused, hurt or scared about the changes they may begin to notice in their grandparents.
While striking a balance between caring for your kids and your parents can be difficult, helping them stay connected to each other throughout the process can offer benefits for all of you: Maintaining positive relationships with family and friends is essential to the quality of life for someone with dementia. Your children can similarly benefit from spending some extra time with their grandparents.
As a parent, equipping your kids with the coping skills they need to process change in their lives is essential. Giving them the tools they need to stay connected with their grandparents with dementia can also prepare them for future challenges that may lie ahead.
Here are three ways you can do just that and help your children create meaningful memories with their grandma or grandpa:
Educate your kids about dementiaEducating and preparing your kids for the possible changes that they may begin to notice in their grandma or grandpa ahead of time can help them process their emotions once they do come. For example, consider sitting down with your kids to explain why their grandparents may forget their names while playing with them. Speaking to them openly and honestly could help them feel less scared and remember that their grandparents don’t love them any less when they forget something.
Consider using age-appropriate comparisons and language to help your kids understand. A great analogy to use with young children to explain dementia is to refer to memory as a bucket. Tell them that their grandma’s or grandpa’s bucket has a hole in it that makes some of their memories leak out. Books are a great resource for talking about dementia with young children; they can help them feel less alone and understand what their grandparents may be experiencing. For more information about teaching older kids and teens about dementia, consider reading this blog:
Plan activities they will both enjoy. Quality time is one of the most important aspects of building and maintaining any strong relationship. Once your kids have a greater understanding of dementia, they may be more willing to spend time with their grandparents, especially if they can do something enjoyable for both of them. Similarly, spending time with your kids can help your parents have happier, more fulfilling lives.
Some activities that your children and their grandparents may love to try include the following:
Spending time in nature with a picnic or hike in the park.
Cooking your parents’ favorite recipes.
Creating something through crafting, painting or scrapbooking.
Playing card games like “go fish” or “Uno.”
Reading their favorite books to each other.
Singing, dancing and listening to music.
Telling stories or looking at old photos.
Consider experimenting with these activities until you find something your kids and their grandparents enjoy, but don’t force the interaction. Attempting to force an interaction could lead to fear or resentment from your loved ones. Dementia can be hard for you and your loved ones to manage, but spending quality time together doing the things you love can help ensure you live happy and meaningful lives.
Involve your kids
While your kids don’t need to be involved in every part of their grandparents’ experience with dementia, involving them in caregiving can help them feel like they are still a priority in your life. It can also give you the opportunity to model good behaviors and teach them how to interact, cope and understand their grandma or grandpa.
For example, if you typically visit your parents a few times a week to take them for a walk or read a book to them, bring your kids along with you. Before you go, you could even gather your children for a short and sweet brainstorming session to come up with fun activities or stories to share with their grandparents.
It’s also a great idea to check in with your kids’ emotions to make sure they feel that they are being given the attention and love they need. Keep an eye out for any behavior that seems out of place, and make sure to involve them in important conversations about their mental health if they need it. Kids are more perceptive than we might expect, so try your best not to leave them out of everything in the hopes of protecting them.
It may not always be easy to help your kids stay connected to their grandparents with dementia; however, it can help them feel happier, build important coping skills, and form meaningful memories.
By educating your children about dementia and Alzheimer’s, planning activities for them and their grandparents, and involving them in caregiving and conversations about their feelings, you can help them maintain a strong connection and cope with the changes that lie ahead.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.