Nursing homes, care facilities, assisted living—whatever you call them, if you have older friends and relatives, they’re probably part of your life. When you visit the nursing home with kids, however, it bears remembering: They’re most likely not a regular part of your children’s lives. And even if they’ve been a time or two before, they may not remember it.
To help them understand where they’re going, what to expect, and to set them up for a pleasant and successful visit that they’ll want to repeat, we’ve collected a few of the most common questions kids may ask, together with tips to help them understand and feel more comfortable.
Why isn’t there anything fun to do here?
This is a common question from children anywhere that’s not particularly well set up for a child’s interests and exploration. You may hear the same question when you visit the bank or the BMV. You may have asked it yourself.
And it’s a great question: Is there nothing fun to do here? If the answer really is no, you might consider passing that question on to the facility administrators. But more likely, there are fun things to do: puzzles, board games, computers, sometimes even pets. And if the person you’re visiting doesn’t have the things your child likes to do, be sure to bring them along. A game that your child can play with your host is fun for everyone involved.
Why doesn’t he/she understand me? Or know who I am?
When a loved one has dementia, especially if it’s come on suddenly, it’s disconcerting for those who know and care for them. For children, it’s especially confusing. If the person you’re visiting is experiencing dementia or senility, talk to your child about it first.
If they’re old enough, help them understand that your loved one still cares for them very much, but that they may sometimes be confused about places, time, and people. Explain to your child that this is something that happens sometimes when people get older, but that your child can still talk to the person, be kind to the person, and try their best to understand the person.
Help to model calmness and positivity for your child by paying attention to your own reactions. Try your best to calmly and cheerfully remind your loved one of where they are, who you are, and what is going on. It may help you feel more positive, too.
Why are they all looking at me? Or talking to me?
Visits from children are something of a event in many assisted living homes. Even if most of the residents are quite lucid, your child may get more attention than they are used to from your loved one’s friends and neighbors. Occasionally, due to senility or dementia, those attentions may be based on mistaken identity, which can be confusing, and even frightening, for kids.
Again, have the talk about the effects of aging, as described above. And help your child understand that at whatever age, people are excited to be around young people. And that their youthful enthusiasm is a unique gift they can share that adults can’t always provide.
What happens when people get old?
With all the talking and thinking about aging that may come from this visit, your child may ask about growing old, or even death. It’s probably a good idea to prepare yourself for these questions.
What should you tell your child about death, dying, or even getting older? Some of that depends on what you believe, but it’s okay to acknowledge that these things do happen. And it’s usually helpful, for you and your child, to talk about the feelings you have around these issues. It’s also okay to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know, or even “I don’t feel like talking about that right now. Can we talk about it later?” Putting them in touch with your feelings will help them get in touch with theirs.
Can I bring a gift?
Taking a small gift, like a book or a favorite food—or even planning a musical or dance recital piece for your child to share with your host—can be a great way to foster connection between your child and their older loved one, and make each visit feel special.
Whatever your approach to these visits, remember that it’s important that everyone gets something out of them. So make time to do something that’s fun for everyone, and which will make great memories to last until next visit.