Love and Hugs With The Young and Elderly

Beth Pinyerd

The passing of Hurricane Ian, which left so much devastation in the path it hit, brought back so many reflections of the hurricanes my family went through over the 30 years we lived in Baldwin County, Alabama. I can still remember the reactions from the young students whom I was teaching when the hurricanes hit our Alabama/Florida coast. As natural disasters come and go, how is your child being affected deep down? We are all affected in some way. Young children try to assess, at their own mental and emotional stages of development, the magnitude of what has really happened. How can we parents offer young children a sense of security in the midst of the storm when their circumstances are definitely not normal? 

For parents with children under 2 years old, keeping the home environment as normal as possible is a high priority. Young children can easily sense emotional upset through our facial expressions as well as our reactions. To keep children well physically and emotionally, keep them on a regular schedule for meals and rest. 

Children between the ages of 3 and 5 will verbalize what they see and feel. Parents, be ready to spend time looking into your children’s eyes and fully listening to what they are expressing. This is a time when you cannot half-listen, but rather you must fully interact with their comments and questions. Be sure to sift through television programs to eliminate ones that may be too graphic for a young mind. As parents and teachers, we have to be very sensitive to what is appropriate for our children’s emotions and well-being.  Also, hugging your child during uncertain times and natural disasters reduces fear and anxiety, and provides security and a strong bond with their parents or caregivers.  I love the poem “Here Comes a Hug” by an unknown author. It has a lot of good advice for young children. “A hug can soothe a small child’s pain, and bring a rainbow after the rain. So stretch those arms without delay and give your child a hug today.” What a simple gesture of celebrating your child. 

When disaster does hit families and neighbors with children don’t try to hide your reactions, but channel your reactions into a positive response.  One way as families you can do this is through outreach in helping others who have been hurt by the disaster. Lee County is such a giving and helpful community. Engage your family in the many volunteer activities in the community, such as disaster relief projects. Young children can participate in folding, sorting and packaging items for victims. Young and older children can draw and write notes of encouragement to victims as well as help you to gather needed items from your home to share with victims. Through outreach, your children will learn a lifelong lesson of how to help others in need. 

After what we have been through with COVID, in spending time with my elderly friends, they have shared with me that touch is the most important sense for them. Touch is an understanding and communication that transcends age and time. We see this in the intergenerational environment between young and old. Touch to the elderly says “You are important to me. You are not alone.” In serving the elderly, health care professionals have shared some important guidelines with me in respecting the elderly. To give an elderly family member or friend their personal space, simply ask permission if you can give a hug, hand massage or a back rub. Assess and determine if they feel well. Discern if they really want a hug or touch. Keep touch very simple by extending your hand to your elderly friend. A pat on the hand or giving a hand massage with lotion are simple gestures of showing care. I would like to share benefits of touch that have been shared with me by health care professionals, elderly friends and through activity experiences. 

1. Touch increases reality of the surrounding environment and increases interaction orientation. As we grow older the basic need for touch may fade, but the feelings that touch present and invoke do not fade. 

2. In one-on-one interaction with the elderly, touch increases sensory stimulation and  increases a sense of companionship. 

3. Touch takes an elderly person out of a sense of isolation. When one feels secure and not alone, hope, trust and reassurance are expressed and conveyed to the elderly person. This contributes to the emotional stability of the elderly person. Emotional stability contributes to overall good health. 

4. Medical professionals have reported that touch enhances the feelings of well-being which can decrease blood pressure and help to promote rest, sleep and general feelings of well-being. 

A hug and smile can truly encourage young children as well as the elderly.  

Classroom Observer, Beth Pinyerd


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