By Courtney Phillips
At many schools, community service is a graduation requirement. And, for many students, working in a nursing home or other geriatric facility is how these service hours are fulfilled. While it is not always the first preference for how students would like to spend their time, most come away with a deeper understanding of themselves and the elderly folks with whom they work.
Below are five tips for bridging the divide between students and their older (and wiser) new friends:
1. Sympathy – Young people need to realize they will someday be old and that everyone eventually faces the challenges of aging.
2. Communication – If there is discomfort or awkward silences, addressing them gently can be a great ice breaker. Perhaps the student will admit he is nervous or unsure about how best to approach the situation.
3. Humor – Students should keep their senses of humor. While this does not mean they are not cruelly amused in any way, students should keep things light and fun whenever possible.
4. Common ground – There is SOMETHING the student and their older counterpart have in common. By working to find that common ground, all involved will learn more about one another and ultimately bond over their resulting similarities.
5. Respect – As stated previously, both the young and old have plenty to learn from one another. If each chooses to respect the life experiences of the other, it will prove to be a very profound experience.
While working in a nursing home once, I found myself faced with an angry woman from whom I wanted to escape. She was unhappy, unhealthy and, I thought, insane. But, I was personally assigned to keeping her company and had to make the best of it.
After asking her questions about herself I found that she had attended the same church as my grandmother. It turned out that she not only knew my grandmother but had gone to high school with her. Though they hadn’t spoken in years, they were good friends when they were younger.
We spent that afternoon (and many thereafter) talking about their old neighborhood and my grandmother’s school days. My grandmother died when I was ten and I never had the chance to learn much about her life. The experience was one of the best of my life.
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