Sharing good times with older relatives

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Much has been written lately about meeting the special needs of the elderly. Children, too, can become aware of these special needs and, with guidance, can do much to bring pleasure to their more mature relatives and friends. Possible ways for children to do this include:

* Writing a letter. If the relative or friend doesn't live nearby, encourage a child to write frequent letters. You might suggest that he or she draw a picture of a loved pet or some flower, which could be included in the envelope.

* Visiting. Years ago I made regular visits to a member of our church who lived in a retirement home. One time I took my children, then ages four and six, with me. What a joy it was to see their presence bring smiles to residents sitting on the porch at the time. From then on I took the boys with me every time I could.

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* Taking walks together. I still remember nature walks I took with my grandmother. She knew all about wildflowers and would try to teach me the names of the various ones we encountered. Encouraging your child to invite an older relative or friend to take a walk could bring enrichment and delight to both generations.

* Listening to them. Help your child learn to be a good listener. Older people enjoy talking to children, and most children enjoy hearing about events that occurred when grandma or grandpa was a child. The following questions might spur interesting conversations: Do you remember your first teacher? What was your favorite song when you were a child? (Perhaps the child could learn to sing it.) What was your grandmother like? Your grandfather? Did you have a pet?

* Letting them teach. Nearly everyone has a special skill or talent that he or she enjoys sharing. My grandmother played the piano and became my first piano teacher when she lived with us for a time. My other grandmother was an artist. One summer she gave my cousin and me regular lessons in sketching and painting with watercolors. I still remember trying to capture the exact shade of blue of a dragonfly posing for us on our screen door.

Recently I discovered the fun of baking cookies with my nine-year-old grandson Ethan. He sifted and measured the flour and chopped nuts -- and helped roll the cookies into balls. I taught him to wash the baking dishes when we were finished. We both felt much satisfaction in passing the plate of warm cookies to the family that evening.

There are endless ways children can interact happily with older relatives and friends. Parents can help them discover the most appropriate ways to do it.

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