We teach our children to be polite when they meet older adults.
But mere politeness, while important, isn’t enough.
By 2025, there will be more Americans over the age of 65 than under the age of 13.
Manners will need to be expanded to include purposeful and kind interaction among us all.
Conversation is key to intergenerational engagement — so why not start at holiday time?
As relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues visit and gather all throughout the approaching holiday time and into the New Year, meaningful conversation can be the most powerful way to connect. (And get people to turn off or put down their phones!)
Here are three ways to help our kids learn to talk, engage and have fun with people of many generations.
It’s a skill set that will help them throughout their lives (and help us, too).
1.) Share stories and blessings. This is a wonderful way to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah together; and many of us want to say what we are grateful for as well.
A fun twist is to ask everyone to write down their thoughts and put them into an “appreciation basket.” Ask the oldest and the youngest to read each of the “blessings” aloud for others to guess who wrote them.
This creates a fun guessing game; the sharing gives each person a chance to talk about what’s meaningful to them.
2.) Ask key questions to evoke direct and memorable answers. Around the table or while relaxing together as a family, ask questions of loved ones that only they can answer. You might even pre-write these with your kids before guests arrive — and have them handy for the right moment.
The secret is that no one else but that person could possibly know the answers to questions such as, “What song would be the anthem for your life?” or “What person inspired you most when you were a child?”
Here’s another good one: “Who is the one person in any generation, from the beginning of time to now, that you wish you could have met?”
Young people may be surprised by the answers that older people give to these — and vice versa.
There is no better way to have an inspirational connection than by sharing what’s important to each of us.
3.) Focus on each person’s special gift or talent. Someone in the room may be a great storyteller — while another person is the world’s best cook or hostess.
Consider having everyone present write their names on a piece of paper — and then invite everyone gathered to share one way that person is a gift to this world.
Fold the papers nicely — maybe with an origami lesson — and let people take them home as a reminder that they are the real treasure this holiday season.
For those who are struggling and perhaps having a blue-holiday season, this can be a terrific boost.
When younger and older people have meaningful conversations together, it’s not only enjoyable in the moment — but can lead to lasting changes.
Andrea J. Fonte Weaver is founder and executive director of Bridges Together, Inc., a nonprofit leader in developing training and tools for intergenerational engagement for individuals, schools, senior groups and communities.
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