Aging is a fact of life, but, that doesn’t make it any less challenging. Sure, it is one of those main, major realities that we have to learn to face and deal with–but while we are wrestling with our own aging issues, as parents, we also have to help our children learn how to cope with aging. Watching as grandparents get older, and perhaps get ill and die can be one of the most traumatic pieces of childhood.
Children who are able to have close, affectionate relationships with grandparents have enriched lives. But, the closer they are, the more painful the process of aging can be. It doesn’t have to be horrible, however, and it can really be a blessing and a great opportunity for children to learn about aging, and learn how to face and process aging as grandparents grow older.
Like most things, the best way to prepare children for the aging process of grandparents is to talk it through–have plenty of conversations, explain what is going on, make trips to the library to find books and, especially movies that have an appropriate and healthy depiction of aging. Making sure that you are creating an environment where children can express their feelings and fears is really important when it comes to dealing with big issues like aging, illness, and death. If children feel like they can’t express their fears, or make comments about changes in aging grandparents, they will bottle all that stuff up and not have a healthy outlet to sort things through. Even if you child isn’t talking about things, you can bring it up and point out realities of aging so all the cards are on the table. If the grandparents, themselves, are open, able, and willing to discuss their own “take” on growing older, it can be even more valuable for the child.
Make sure to keep things age-appropriate and allow plenty of time to process things that might come up around aging. Understanding both the physical and mental aspects of aging takes time and attention, but putting energy and attention into helping children prepare and cope with aging grandparents will only make them stronger, more emotionally developed, and emotionally healthy people.