Contact: Kevin Kavanaugh
Director of Public Affairs
(773) 478-6613

December 12, 2006

Helpful Advice for Children Visiting Nursing Homes During the Holidays

CHICAGO – During the holidays, many individuals visit their loved ones in nursing homes to spread good cheer, participate in seasonal activities, and celebrate the love or friends and family. Some of these holiday visitors include children who may be unprepared for the realities of a long-term care setting.

Visiting a nursing home can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience for young and old. With a little forethought and planning, parents can help make this visit a successful one for their kids. To help these parents, the Illinois Council on Long Term Care, an association of nursing home professionals, offers the following recommendations on helping children connect with nursing home residents during the holidays:

  • Talk with your children about what to expect during a nursing home visit, such as seeing residents in wheelchairs or others who may be unresponsive. Answer any questions or concerns your children may have. Discuss their feelings about visiting older adults.
  • Stop by the children’s section of your local bookstore. There are several good children’s books available that address understanding the elderly. Reading this type of book with young children can help in making them more comfortable with visiting a nursing home resident.
  • Try to plan the visit a week or two in advance. The best times to visit are generally mid-morning, mid-afternoon and early evening. Be sure to contact the elder or the elder’s caregiver to ask him or her what time of the day would be best.
  • Think ahead of time about some possible activities that could involve the elder and the children. Bring any needed supplies with you to the visit. By participating in an activity, the children will feel more comfortable and engaged, and will walk away having had a better experience. (Creative activity ideas are listed below.)
  • During their visits, children may need some gentle encouragement to overcome their shyness. The parent can offer some questions to get the conversation going, such as asking their kids to discuss their hobbies or participation in school sports teams. Young children could introduce their favorite toys to an elder as an icebreaker.
  • After the visit, talk about what happened and what the children felt. Be sure to answer any of their questions openly and honestly.

Here are some creative activity suggestions for the visit, including many that are holiday-focused:

  • Help decorate the resident’s room for the holidays.
  • Sing familiar holiday songs. Bring along some song sheets and a cassette player if possible.
  • Read a favorite book together, including holiday stories. If possible, bring over a book in large print.
  • Make simple tree ornaments or other craft projects.
  • Put together a small scrapbook of family photographs.
  • Read over some holiday catalogs and ask for the elder’s advice on choosing gifts for family and friends.
  • Participate in a facility activity program together. Contact the facility’s activity director to discuss upcoming events.
  • Take the senior for a walk around the facility, and enjoy a meal together.
  • Play cards, checkers, matching games or board games.
  • Look over family photo albums to spark memories and conversation. Or, take some new family photographs together at the facility.
  • Do an activity together related to the family’s religion, such as reading stories from the Bible or other religious texts.
  • Bring in items related to the elder’s interests. For instance, for a male nursing home resident who is a car buff, the children could bring in model cars, car magazines, glossy dealership brochures, or give a tour of the family’s new car. Have the children use these items to spark conversation.
  • Have the children bring a small gift for their loved one. Possible gifts could include hand lotion, brushes, combs, note cards, stationery, framed family pictures or large print books.
  • Have the children “interview” their elderly relatives about their lives. Work together with the kids ahead of time to prepare a list of questions. Consider recording these responses on videotape or audiocassette.

Most importantly, don’t make the holiday visit just a one-time experience. Both the elder and the children would benefit greatly from continuing these visits throughout 2007. An ongoing series of visits allows for a true relationship to develop, helping children to connect with the elderly in many meaningful ways. These visits will provide young people with important life lessons that pay off for years to come.

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The Illinois Council on Long Term Care is a professional association of nearly 200 nursing facilities committed to quality residential health care in Illinois through a productive and responsible partnership between the private and public sectors. The Council represents more than 26,000 nursing home professionals serving more than 37,000 residents. Helpful information for seniors and families can be found at the Council’s Web site