Since the beginning of my blog, a number of friends have asked me, “What do you talk to your grandparents/grandma about?” I can’t say I’m the guru in this area, but having lived and worked with seniors, I thought I’d compile some tips or suggestions on how to make more meaningful conversation with grandparents (more on this here). Any additional thoughts WELCOME!
- Some questions don’t go as far – I’ve found that questions like “How are you?” or “What did you do today?” aren’t that effective. No need to avoid these basic questions but questions like “How are you?” can lead to the one word more superficial answers. Yes, asking “What did you do today?” can be a great question to ask an active senior, but when you are talking to someone who watches TV and then eats, then sits, then naps, you may not get a lively answer. In my opinion, asking someone what they did that day can make them feel kind of loserly when they lead a fairly mundane life. I see my 98 year old grandma a few times a week and I do often ask her, “What did you do?” For the most part, she stays at home and plays with her great grandkids, eats, sleeps, etc. Her typical answer is, “Nothing. I slept. I sat around like a mooncake. So old!!” And that’s about all.
- Bring in your exciting life and keep talking – It’s not always a great habit to talk about yourself, but when talking with a grandparent especially, I think it can be helpful to talk about yourself. My bet is you may get requests for more! Just like with our parents, our grandparents enjoy when we share our lives with them, no matter how unimportant you may think your life activities are. Check out my DIY posts to get an idea of some conversation starters (It helps that my grandma was a former home economics teacher).
In one of my first jobs when I worked at a retirement community, I literally would just talk and talk with elderly residents all day long. I worked in the fitness center and talking made workouts go by faster for the residents. Working with seniors daily encouraged me to try new things in life simply because it made for a good story when I went to work the next day. If you are lacking in conversation with your grandparents, try making a new recipe, run on a new trail, get in touch with your elementary school friend, go camping! Then share it with your grandparents the next time you visit or call. It can lead to a good conversation about Facebook and probably lead you to a more adventurous life.
When my grandpa was still alive and when my grandparents lived in an assisted living (which lasted a year), I would often visit, sit down on their bed and then just tell them whatever I had been doing. My grandpa, who used to walk over an hour every day before he had his stroke loved it when I told him about my race training.
“Last Saturday, I ran 14 miles. This weekend, I plan to run 15.”
My grandpa would get a KICK out of how crazy I was. If I ran out of gas while driving to work that day, I would tell him. If I went out for sushi that weekend and it was good, I would tell my grandparents. When talking about your own “exciting” life, somehow, somewhere in the conversation, you may get bite! My grandma hears me talk about sushi, and she starts going on and on about how she went to school in Japan when she was younger.
- Ask for insight. And gain some shortcuts. One of the benefits of spending time with the elderly is that you can gain some good wisdom and encouragement from people who have been there, done that. Some of my favorite conversations were when I worked in the fitness center at that retirement community and just got to pick the brains of the elderly. Ask for insight and you will get an answer.
After doing horrible on the GREs, I asked residents at my fitness center job to help me study vocab words as they exercised on the treadmill. I would ask them to define a word and they often would have the best ways of defining the words and would use them in great context. Come to find, this method worked and boom, my GRE scores went up and I had no problem getting into grad school. Not only did it make room for good conversation, but it made the seniors who helped me feel more valued. Aside from studying, you can talk about car maintenance, relationships, etc. and I’m sure you might get some juicy stories. =)
What do you talk to your grandparents/the elderly about??? How do you strike up great conversations? What do you find difficult? Would love to hear other people’s thoughts.