Saturday, October 8, 2016

Four Tips for Visiting a Nursing Home with your Child

When I was in college, my sorority had a nursing home visitation. Many of the girls enjoyed this time tremendously, and I remember one of them loved older people and was studying geriatrics, intending to be a nursing home activities director. I certainly didn't understand the appeal, and the sights and smells of the nursing home convinced me it was something I'd rather not be a part of. Fast forward 25 years, and here I am working part-time in our local nursing home as a nursing assistant, and popping in to visit the residents with my children on days off. I want my children to start now to feel comfortable and enjoy these older people. And I want them to be aware of the great opportunity we have as a society to care for the elderly who are lonely, sick, or suffering. I'd love to see more children visiting our residents, and so here are 4 tips for visiting a nursing home with your child.

1. Start early. While an ideal age for children to visit nursing homes and interact with conversations with residents might be between 4th-8th grade, babies and toddlers can also bring a special joy to the elderly. Very young children may be a bit timid or scared the first visit, and that is okay. Hold your child gently, be relaxed and cheerful with residents and your child will gradually become more comfortable. It's never too late, but the earlier you begin taking your child to visit the nursing home, the more comfortable they will feel about it as they grow up.

2. Be brief, but go often: I have often walked through the nursing home with my children greeting and visiting with 3-4 residents in as little as 10-15 minutes. If there is a nursing home on your route home from school, work, church, or sports practice, pop in and say hi to the residents! They love it! Imagine being stuck in the same boring building day after day after day. A brief interaction with a new smiling face can break the monotony. Good times to visit are an hour or so before meal times when residents are up and waiting to be wheeled into the dining room.

3. Bring small gifts to pass out: It's not necessary every time, but it can take the awkwardness out of walking up to complete strangers if a child has a little homemade heart or card or flower to give. Remember that you are entering someone's home when you enter their room (always knock and ask permission to enter). Your little gift will be a reminder of your visit after you leave. I don't really recommend bringing cookies or food, as some residents may be on special soft diets, unless you clear it with the nurse ahead of time.

4. Thank the staff: Thank the nurses and aids as you see them for the job that they are doing with the residents. For some residents who are lonely and receive no visitors, the staff become like family. They play a significant role in the lives of their residents and some encouragement from you can uplift them as well. Be brief as staff are usually quite busy.

Visiting a nursing home can be a fun experience for you and your children. It may have been the fact that the residents marveled at how incredibly handsome he was, but after our first visit, my middle son said, "That was awesome! We should totally do that more often!"

Have you visited a nursing home with your children? How was the experience and what ideas might you add to this list?


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