Visiting Angels, Barrington Blog

Helping kids have a happy visit with an ill or aging loved one

Bringing children to visit an ill or aging family member can seem intimidating: what if my baby is loud? What if my toddler is wild? What if my tween gets uncomfortable? What if my teen says something insensitive? Take the risk. It can yield real benefits for everyone involved.

Children’s visits can have concrete benefits for elderly and ill loved ones. Oncologist and author Dr. Ranjana Srivastava writes: “Patients cheer up when anyone visits but when children come they have an unfailing effect on lifting the mood and alleviating the loneliness of patients. . . Nothing banishes the dreariness of being in hospital more than an innocent banter with a child. The food tastes nicer, the pain seems bearable and life itself seems more hopeful. Indeed, children inject a kind of optimism and happiness in patients that is hard to replicate.”

Normalizing aging and illness when kids are young stands to benefit them too; it can foster empathy and help them grow to be more emotionally resilient adults. Dr. Srivastava points out: “We seem happy to let our children Google illness, just not let them near it. But making illness and mortality invisible to our children has unexpected consequences. General Practitioners report meeting adults in their 40s who fall apart when a parent falls ill because they have never encountered illness up close and don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, let alone their children’s.”Granddaughter hugging Grandmother

Giving children this opportunity is good for them, and it’s good for their loved ones too. It’s important, though, to think through what these visits require and to set the meeting up for success.

Preparation:

It’s a good idea to do a solo visit prior to bringing your children. This way, you know what to expect. If your loved one is in a care facility, the staff is likely to support the visit. It’s good for their client, and they are inclined to want the visit to go well. They can provide support, clarity and expertise that can help make you and your children feel comfortable. If your loved one is at home, you might plan your first visit for a time when a caregiver is there, just to have that expert help. Once you and your child know the routine, it’ll be a no-brainer.

If you’re visiting with older kids, you may want to offer some background about their loved one’s condition. If she has dementia, for example, explain what that might look like:,/p>

“Aunt Sheila isn’t always sure about the timeline that her life currently follows. Time and memory operate a bit differently for her. This means that it can be hard to follow her stories sometimes. I don’t correct her. I just listen. She often talks about grandma!”

Kids have a tremendous capacity for empathy, just talk them through what to expect. Make sure they know about anything like respiratory support or feeding tubes - anything that is pronounced and that they might find troubling or have questions about.

If the child is younger, and may not understand these intricacies, it may be enough to simply say that Aunt Sheila’s body is sick, but she still loves hugs, coloring and knock-knock jokes.

Logistics

Arrange your visit for your loved one’s best time of day - before lunch, for example. Set your children up for success, too, by making sure that they are rested, fed and relaxed. Then pack coloring books, crayons, books, and a toy or two that they love to discuss.

You can help your children prepare for the visit by planning a couple of conversation starters in advance:

“Uncle Edmund was an Air Force pilot. He can tell you a lot about different regions of the world he’s seen. You can tell him that you’re going to be in the geography bee.”

“Aunt Talitha loves to sew. She will be interested to hear about the knitting classes you’re taking.”

“We have to tell Uncle Dennis about our trip to Milwaukee! He lived there for years.”

In the moment, it can be hard to think of topics to discuss; coming prepared helps.

Short, frequent visits

A 45-minute visit is wonderful. It can be tempting, if the visit is going well, to overstay. Neither your children nor your loved one needs that. Say your goodbyes while things still feel good. This way, you can plant the seed for your next visit.

And you can feel proud. You made your loved one feel treasured. Plus, you’re teaching your kids to care for their elders. It a great legacy that stands to benefit you in the future.

If during your visit you noticed that your aging loved one might need some help getting along at home or in a facility, we’d love to talk to you about our home care services. From companion care, respite care, dementia care and more our Angels are trained and ready to walk alongside you and your loved one on this journey. Contact us today here or by calling us direct at 815-479-0312.

Each Visiting Angels agency is a franchise that is independently owned and operated. The Franchisor, Living Assistance Services Inc., does not control or manage the day to day business operations of any Visiting Angels franchised agency.