With multi-generational families living together less and less, many children and seniors are missing the benefits of cross-generation interaction. Whether they are related, such as a grandchild and grandparent, or know each other through parental and community ties, young children benefit from spending time with their elders, and elders benefit from spending time with children.
Spending time with different generations can help reduce depression. Grandparents, or any senior friends, can help a child feel a sense of stability. Spending time with young children can help seniors with social connectedness and maintaining mental health, while combating trends in loneliness. Research says that spending time with grandchildren can help seniors live longer. Aging adults can offer children education, modeling, and resources that can’t be found elsewhere, such as problem solving and social skills. “… older people’s qualities and their affinity for purpose and engagement position them to make critical contributions to the lives of youth who need help the most.”
The benefits of cross-generation interaction aren’t limited to relatives. In Finland, there is a “communal grandparent” program, which places seniors in classrooms with young children for them to share time together. Called “kylämummi,” these seniors spend time with young children in the classroom, reading with them, helping them with snack time, and sharing stories about life and childhood.
Research shows that children with at least one emotionally stable person in their lives are more likely to be resilient in the face of adversity and more able to overcome traumatic events. Young children need consistent, stable relationships with many individuals to reach their greatest potential. Some are lucky enough to have grandparents nearby. For others, it may mean reaching out to elderly neighbors, making time to visit senior centers, or finding “surrogate” grandparents through church or other community activities.
“The needs and the assets of the generations fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,” explains Marc Freedman, CEO and founder of Encore, a nonprofit that matches retiring adults with companies in need of talent. “The old, as they move into the latter phases of life, are driven by a deep desire to be needed by the next generation and to nurture it; the young have a need to be nurtured.”
Just one day a week of cross-generation interaction can help both seniors and young children to be happier, healthier, and more stable.
More information here:
Forming Intergenerational Relationships: Why It’s Beneficial for Seniors and Youth
How communal grandparents are helping raise Finnish children