How to build strong emotional bonds across generations

When you’re caring for a multigenerational family, it’s nice when everyone is close and has their own special relationships. But it’s not always easy to find common interests among family members of different ages. And when you add everyone’s busy schedules into the mix, simply finding time for loved ones to connect can be tricky. 

But it is possible, and the emotional rewards are well worth the effort. Here, experts offer tips for fostering strong, healthy relationships across generations.

Tip #1: Put family time on the calendar

Plan regular opportunities for family members to connect. “We live in a culture where everyone is independent and everyone is glued to their phone. Stepping away from the screens and coming together for activities is really important,” says Lee Phillips, Ed.D., L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist.

Perhaps you gather your kids and parents for a Sunday brunch. Next weekend, maybe take everyone to a movie or plan a picnic in the park. “Even sitting and talking for just 30 minutes is great,” Phillips notes.

Be sure to get your kids and parents involved in choosing the activities. Let them pick things they enjoy. When you make these family activities part of your weekly or monthly routine, everyone knows what to expect and will hopefully start to look forward to them.

Tip #2: Encourage curiosity across generations

Because of the wide age gap, conversations between kids and grandparents may not necessarily happen naturally. “The parent may have to do some work to facilitate that,” Phillips says.

For example, invite the grandparents to ask their grandkids about what they’re watching or reading. Or have the grandparents include the grandkids in activities that they do regularly – vintage movie night, looking at family photos, a morning walk, etc. In turn, the grandkids might ask their grandparents if they want to learn a new game, watch a YouTube tutorial or make a Pinterest board together.

Tip #3: Build bonding moments into every day

If your family is very busy, it’s all the more important to incorporate bonding moments into the daily schedule. It makes those moments more likely to happen. “Families do really well with structure,” Phillips says.

For example, parents who live with you can sit with your kids during their after-school snack. If your parents don’t live with you, perhaps you can have your kids call and check on them every day during snack time.

Some grandparents also enjoy helping kids with their homework or reading bedtime stories, which can take some stress off your plate. Find ways to include your parents in everyday activities and you’ll help strengthen the bond between grandkids and grandparents.

Tip #4: Lead by example

Show your kids what healthy relationships look like by fostering a strong bond with your own parents, says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Talk to your kids about the ups and downs of family relationships. “Hopefully, this will open up conversations about emotional connections, vulnerability, humor and saying ‘sorry’ when you make a mistake,” McBain says.

Tip #5: Check in with your parents every week

To foster a strong bond between you and your aging parents, Phillips recommends checking in with them at least once a week. Ask them how they’re feeling, what’s been going on and what they need. Then share how you’re doing and what you need from them.

For example, if your parents live with you and they’re able to move around, you might ask for help with some household chores. Or your parents might share that they’ve been having trouble getting around lately and ask you for help. This is the time for everyone to get on the same page about boundaries and expectations. 

“It’s important to check in often because things change and you can’t read each other’s minds,” Phillips notes.

Tip #6: Reminisce

Many older adults enjoy talking about their good memories. Ask your parents about their childhood and encourage them to share their stories with the whole family, Phillips says. And if you have unanswered questions about your own childhood, see if your parents can fill in the blanks. Reminiscing about the past often ends up being a great bonding moment, Phillips says.

Tip #7: Consider family therapy

Seeing a family therapist can be helpful if you’re stressed about changes that are happening within your family. For example, maybe your parents have recently moved in with you. Or perhaps your child was just diagnosed with a learning disability. 

“When people are overwhelmed and they need resources, family therapy is great,” Phillips says.

Family therapy is a type of group therapy that helps family members better understand and support each other.1 It’s a place where you can have open conversations about challenges you’re facing and find ways to work through them. “The therapist is there to monitor and regulate those conversations,” Phillips says.

Many families turn to therapy to help them adjust when an aging parent moves in. A therapist can help you set boundaries, learn how to communicate and even brainstorm things everyone can do together. That way, you can bond more and stress less.

Already a member?

Sign in or register on your plan website to see personalized benefit details and resources to help you manage your plan and health.