Talking to Kids About Aging Grandparents


Published:

Why doesn't Grandpa play ball with me anymore? Why doesn't Grandma take me for walks like she used to? Why can't I go spend the week at Grandma and Grandpa's house this summer?

As parents, these are difficult questions to hear from our children as our own parents age. But for children, the answers we provide and how we discuss them can make the difference between our kids continuing to enjoy a healthy relationship with grandparents for as long as possible or being confused by the unknown.

What to expect

Everyone ages differently, but certain changes have the most impact on grandchildren.  One of the first differences is a change in energy.

Rebecca Dingfelder, a clinical psychologist with the Triangle Center for Behavioral Health, says this can be most noticeable to children during extended time with grandparents when they need more frequent breaks decline a request to play.

Another common change involves declining health. According to Mary Warren, Aging Program coordinator for the Triangle J Area Agency on Aging, children "may express fear or disgust if the older person has obvious disabilities or differences that the child has not seen before or doesn't understand."

Health problems can also include mental changes. Dingfelder suggests that this can be difficult for grandchildren because they don't understand why grandparents may have trouble remembering things, people or important events, or that they may seem angry or sad. In addition, changes in housing for a grandparent may have a significant impact on grandchildren.

When to start talking

It may be difficult to know when to start talking about grandparents' changes with children. According to the psychologists and psychiatrist at Peak Development Associates in Apex, it's important to start discussions with children older than 3 as the changes begin.

Kristi Butler, a Raleigh mom, was able to involve her four children in the caregiving process for their great-grandparents. She says life transitions are inevitable, and children need help processing them. "Learning to discuss what's happening and how they feel is important," Butler says.

Starting the conversation

Once you begin addressing grandparents' changes, it's important to provide explanations in an open, honest and age-appropriate way. Dingfelder suggests allowing your children to guide the discussions. "Answer what they ask without going into excessive detail or going above their developmental level," she says.

Warren encourages parents to offer reassurance that the grandparent's love doesn't change because of  where they live or the physical changes of getting older. Also explain how changes might affect the grandparent's interactions with the child, and suggest alternatives.

For example, if a grandparent can no longer pick up a grandchild, the staff at Peak Development Associates offers suggesting that Grandma would still love for the child to sit on her lap or sit beside her.

A natural part of life

If a health condition is considered terminal, Warren says the diagnosis and initial changes can be an opportunity to ease into a discussion about death as a natural part of life. This gives parents a chance to answer questions children may have, and to share their thoughts about heaven and what happens when we die.

Lorine Lewis is a Raleigh mother of a 14-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Her mother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and recently stopped treatment. She says that while this has been a difficult change and diagnosis for her children to accept, she "doesn't believe in sheltering them" beyond reason. She advises parents to "know your child and how much information they're capable of handling."

When Lewis' son questioned why his grandfather had turned into a "Crabby Patty lately," she explained that her parents have been married "for quite a while and it's hard for Grandpa to deal with the idea that he may be alone with his illnesses when [Grandma] passes away."

Editor's Note: Shortly after this article went to print on June 13, Lewis' mother passed away in her own bed at home. She was 84.

When moving is necessary

If a move is in order, parents can help children understand why. They can also take steps to help strengthen bonds with grandparents. Peak Development Associates staff suggests talking about the changes in a matter-of-fact way, such as, "It's too hard to maintain a large house and at the new place they don't have to do yard work and housework."

If the move is further away from grandchildren, parents can reassure children that they will still visit. It's best to let grand-children know when the first visit will be and, if possible, tell them how often they can expect to visit.

Mary Cay Corr, an AARP volunteer and Chapel Hill grandmother, encourages grandchildren or parents to teach grandparents how to use Skype, FaceTime or other technology that allows for easy face-to-face communication. She says frequent or scheduled communication between grandchildren and grandparents allows them to keep in touch and adds meaning if they can actually see each other.

Heather Rusnak, executive director for Galloway Ridge at Fearrington, says most retirement or assisted living communities offer times when activities are planned that might facilitate structured interaction with grandparents, as well as amenities such as a ping pong table, swimming pool or putting green. This helps children see that their grandparents can still enjoy life and fun activities with them, just in a different location.

Teaching compassion and empathy

Physical changes associated with aging can range from fading eyesight to broken bones to being bedridden — all challenges that present plenty of opportunities to teach children how to be compassionate and empathetic.

Corr says when a grandparent's eyesight begins to fade, parents can encourage grandchildren to offer to read for a grandparent, which can reinforce the bond they share.

Simple sensitivity exercises may help a child better understand some of the physical challenges grandparents face.

Warren suggests having children try to walk or read with glasses smeared with Vaseline, or try to pick an item up with two fingers taped together.

Peak Development Associates' staff suggests asking adolescents to help with tasks that require strength or stamina, and having younger children run upstairs for needed items or pick up something that has dropped.

The Lewises also encourage their children to share what's going on in their lives with their grandfather and to discuss shared interests such as history.

It's important for children to learn that caring for each other is what families do, including during the aging process. To do this, they have to have at least some understanding of the changes taking place, which only comes by parents talking with them. As Butler says, "Spending time, laughing, talking, sharing memories and making memories meant a great deal to all of us."

Robyn Kinsey Mooring is a Durham-based writer and mother of two boys.

7 Ways to Strengthen Grand Relationships

  1. Ask grandparents to tell stories about their youth. Document these memories in a life history book or recording.
  2. Encourage grandparents to be involved in children's lives by watching their sports teams compete, attending play practices, etc.
  3. Start a new hobby or activity together, such as scrapbooking or taking a cooking class. Try making a list of world capitals and doing something from each capital such as trying a food from that area, drawing the country's flag, or reading a poem or story about the country.
  4. Exercise together — walk, swim or bike if possible.
  5. Teach Grandma or Grandpa to play Xbox!
  6. Work on a project together via Skype.
  7. Watch old videos together that feature grandparents and grandchildren, such as when the children were born and the grandparents visited, christenings,birthday parties and holiday celebrations
Suggested Resources

The following children’s books can help initiate discussions and explain changes with grandparents in child-friendly terms:

  • Always My Grandpa by Linda Scacco
  • The Fall of Freddy the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
  • Gran-Gran’s Best Trick: A Story for Children Who have Lost Someone They Love by L. Dwight Holden, M.D.
  • My Grandpa Had a Stroke by Dori Hillestad Butler
  • Striped Shirts and Flowered Pants by Barbara Schnurbush

— Robin Kinsey Mooring
.

Suggested Resources

The following children’s books can help initiate discussions and explain changes with grandparents in child-friendly terms:

Always My Grandpa by Linda Scacco

The Fall of Freddy the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia

Gran-Gran’s Best Trick: A Story for Children Who have Lost Someone They Love by L. Dwight Holden, M.D.

My Grandpa Had a Stroke by Dori Hillestad Butler

Striped Shirts and Flowered Pants by Barbara Schnurbush

 

— Robin Kinsey Mooring

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1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Chip, chip, hooray! The first Zambrero in the Southeast is opening on January 24 with zingy, zesty activities! Bodacious Burritos and Bowls: $5 burritos and bowls all day Delicious Drawing: A...

Cost: Free

Where:
1 Glenwood Ave
#105
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: (919) 863-2561
Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sights and sounds of a quiet night along the American Tobacco Trail. We will walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back (about one mile total). Free for ages 4...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join the Museum and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the big picture — of the Universe! From comet crafts to solar observing, lectures to rocket launches, space enthusiasts of all ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

RALEIGH (Jan. 16, 2020) – The North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools will host its first school fair during National School Choice Week on Saturday, Jan. 25. The fair will take...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: NC Association of Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Tricky Tracks Saturday, January 25 10-11 a.m. Come dressed for the weather so you can roam the park learning the fine art of “tracking”.   Make a cast of an animal...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Join the statewide kickoff to Black History Month at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society since 2015, the 19th...

Cost: 0

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 East Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. Discover how animals deal with cold weather and which ones hibernate...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for all family members,& childre

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

Come support your NC State Gymnastics team as they open the 2020 home season against the Towson Tigers on January 25th at 4 PM. Tickets start at just $3!

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Coliseum
2411 Dunn Ave
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Join us in Arendelle for Frozen-inspired STEAM activities for the whole family! Included in the ticket cost is dinner and dessert for the whole family, make your own sock Olaf and Frozen bouncy...

Cost: $35 per family

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Website »

More information

AML Wrestling presents our 5th Anniversary Celebration! WHEN: Saturday, January 25th, 2020WHERE: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in theHome & Garden Building 408 27th Street NW/Gate #9 Winston-Salem, NC...

Cost: $5

Where:
Winston-Salem Fairgrounds
408 27th Street NW/Gate #9
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Sponsor: AML Wrestling
Telephone: 336-831-0646
Contact Name: Tracy Myers
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.