Getting Kids’ Cooperation: Making Care Home Visits Fun

By Lisa 


Getting children to enjoy visiting a loved one in a care home can be a difficult task. Perhaps they whine that they don’t want to go because the home smells funny, or they feel uncomfortable around elderly people. Maybe they sit through the visit with a bored look on their face and seem relieved when it’s time to go home. The child may be a teenager who has a busy schedule and isn’t motivated to go. There are things you can do to help the visit be a more enjoyable experience for your elderly loved one, yourself, and yes, even your children. Care homes are also taking new measures to make their facilities more family oriented.

Giving your visits structure can help, according to Jan Brown, a social worker at Lutheran Homes of Oconomowoc, Inc. (Shorehaven Health Center), 1306 W. Wisconsin Ave., Oconomowoc.

“Engage both people (the child and the older relative) in some kind of an activity, like making Valentine’s Day cards,” Brown said.

If you have a child who is kind of antsy, call the care home ahead of time and see what kinds of activities are offered to accommodate your child’s needs, said Colleen McGuire, a social worker and admissions coordinator at Care-Age of Brookfield, 1755 N. Barker Rd., Brookfield.

Playing board games or letting kids play on the jungle gym can also be a good way for children to release their energy. 

“Conduct visits in other areas of the nursing home, maybe a lounge area or a common dining room. Or go outside for a walk. Normalize some of the activities you’d normally do with grandma or grandpa,” Brown said. 

Ann Westfall, director of social services at LindenGrove Health Care Center, 425 N. University Drive, Waukesha, suggests taking a picnic lunch to eat outside, baking cookies to take to the relative, or taking the relative out for ice cream as possible activities.

Many care homes are willing to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable experience. 

At Care-Age, for example, relatives can call ahead to have the nursing home prepare a meal for the family to enjoy in a furnished dining room, McGuire said. With prior permission, relatives may also bring in a pizza or let the dog run around in the courtyard. 

“Don’t stay in the room- go have lunch rather than just a visit. Eating is a social time,” McGuire said.

“At our facility we have plants and animals and toys. That really gets kids to want to come,” said Westfall.

Some of the critters at Linden Grove include dogs, cats, birds, and fish, which the residents help to care for. Westfall said many grandparents enjoy watching their grandchildren play with the animals.

Visits can be beneficial for the child as well as the elderly loved one. 

“A little boy went in and played the piano and he got reinforced praise from the people who gathered around,” McGuire said. 

“During the holidays we have a lot of kids who help by singing Christmas carols and leading sing-a-longs,” Westfall said. “We want children to come in and make it more of a home.”

Children may also want to consider having their older relative help them with a school history project or showing them a paper they wrote or a report card they’re proud of. 

“If kids are excited about what they bring home from school, why not bring it over here, too?” said Westfall.

If children are nervous about seeing their older relative, let them know ahead of time what to expect.

“Just reassure them not to be afraid, because some kids are afraid of seeing the wheelchairs or older people,” Westfall said. 

“Talk to them about what they might expect to see beforehand,” Brown said. “Talk to kids about grandma’s health problem; why she’s changed so much. Let kids ask questions, ask them what activities they’d like to do with grandma.”

By including your children in the planning process, they may appreciate the fact that you wanted to make the visit fun, and may be more excited and motivated about seeing their older relative.