I spent several summers in my early twenties in South Korea; my brothers each lived there for a few years. One thing that Korean culture does well is teach their kids to respect older people. One of the outward signs of this respect is giving up your seat on the bus or train to an older person who gets on. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s common courtesy at home, too.”
Helping Kids and Seniors Connect
I tried it last month. Some older women got on and I gave up my seat. They protested greatly and seemed to take it as an insult, a suggestion that they were old, though one eventually did sit down. Courtesy that makes people uncomfortable isn’t really courtesy, right? But it started me thinking about inter-generational relationships, their importance, and how such relationships can be fostered, especially in a culture that does not prize age.
Mix It Up
It’s easy for kids to spend most of their time with their peers if they spend the whole day at school or daycare, especially if they follow it up with extra curricular activities. Grandparents are sometimes an airplane flight away. If you want to make sure that kids are exposed to older people, you may have to make a special effort. When I was a kid, I visited nursing homes with school and church, usually singing, chatting with, or reading to the residents. I think that experienced really helped me to be more comfortable with older (and frequently physically unwell) people.
We have an absolutely great book called Then and Now by Heather Amery. We spend one day a week at my 94-year-old grandmother’s house, and we love to read a page of that book and then ask her questions about how the old-fashioned pictures compared to her childhood. One popular response was about the outhouse: they had a three-holer with three different holes to sit on. That way the little guys wouldn’t fall in! She has a wealth of history in her memory, and it is so good for her access it, while it also makes history and other ways of living real to my little guys. I can’t say enough about how great I think this is (plus, honestly, I enjoy it myself!)
My kids love to have Grammie read to them; they love to have Grandma and Grandpa play games with them. I am more than happy to have a break from both of these activities. Depending on the personalities of your old and young folk, they could do crafts, wash dishes, make bread, learn how to use a smart phone, or almost anything else together. There are so many skills that one generation can share with another. (I asked friends about this topic and one friend told me that her Nana taught her to knit without ever holding needles.)
It’s way too easy to start rolling eyes at Grandma’s music or mocking Grandpa’s politics. Don’t do it. One reason it’s really hard is that these are often your own parents…do you want your kids rolling their eyes at you? Frankly, it’s important to learn that everyone has a right to their own tastes and opinions, and to learn to engage those people, find out why they like different things or think differently from you, have respectful conversations on both sides. Don’t miss that learning opportunity!
How do you teach your kids to interact with older people?