This article combines some of my most favorite issues: kids with hearing loss and elderly family members. I m so lucky to have grandparents, who live near me and make my life more wonderful and interesting. My kids are incredibly lucky to have great-grandparents in their day-to-day lives! I never knew any of my great-grandparents and appreciate how unusual and precious my kids’ relationships with their great-grandparents are. Whether grandparents or great-aunts and uncles or even an elderly next-door neighbor, older people can play a huge role in children’s lives.
Interacting with older people gives an opportunity to teach children respect. My children’s grandparents are young and active. And in the kind of world we live in, my kids’ grandparents are close friends and even playmates, like many other adults. This creates wonderful intimacy and closeness – but not necessarily respect. I still think that learning respect is important. Everyone is not your friend. I want my kids to learn to treat some people with respect, these people are not your equals, not your friends, but deserve your deference and esteem.
Older people teach children how to get along with other people’s rules. When parents are away and children are being cared for by grandparents, even for an hour, children must learn to deal with a different authority figure. It is useful to know how to handle another person than Mom and Dad telling you what to do. They might be arbitrary and old-fashioned, but as a child, you still need to learn how to handle them. This holds you in good stead for life – when many different authority figures (teachers, boss, police officer) will tell you what to do and knowing how to handle that will make your life much easier.
Older people give children a sense of history, and their own personal history. Encourage your children to ask an older person questions about their life and experiences. What did they play when they were children? How did they celebrate holidays when they were young? What language did they speak with their parents or grandparents? Did they immigrate to another country? What did they do during World War II? (My brother so hoped that my grandfather still kept some bombs, that he might share, from his stint in the US Army in 1942-45!) What did they think was the best invention that has come along in their lifetime? (My husband’s grandmother told us: indoor plumbing!) Family, being part of a chain of people and generations, gives children a sense of connectedness that is really meaningful.
Older people can help children learn to care for others and appreciate what they have. If an older person has physical limitations, children can help out – picking things up, running errands, carrying things – transforming children from the small people who need help into the capable people who give help. This can be a very empowering experience. Teaching children to care for older people, whose bodies do not do everything they should and once did, can also help kids with hearing loss put their own experience into a different perspective. They might think of themselves differently when they realize how well most of their body does work.
If you do not have relatives or friends who are older people nearby, you can take your children to visit local nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. They can bring along pictures they have drawn and give them out, if they play an instrument – great chance for an adoring audience!, if they feel shy, here is a chance to practice social skills with forgiving people. Older people can look scary to children (and adults) at first. That is okay, and its important for kids to know that their reactions are okay. Talk about your feelings and reactions and encourage your children to talk about theirs. But keep trying because good deeds make children feel good.