Prepare your children for a visit to a senior living community.

Visiting with family members—especially grandkids—can be a joy to residents in a senior living community. But it can be tough to bring kids along when you don’t know what to expect. These tips can help family members of all ages make the most out of your visit.

Talk to your kids before you go

Often, children don’t understand why grandma or grandpa is living somewhere new or in a place with a bunch of other people. Be honest with them and use kid-friendly language. Explain why your loved one is living in a community and how their life will be better there because they live with friends and can get some extra help with things.

Tell kids ahead of time if there are any noticeable physical changes in your loved one, like a wheelchair or oxygen tank. Explain how the device helps and what it does. Mental changes, like dementia or Alzheimer’s, may be tougher to explain. Describe the situation as clearly and calmly as you can. Give examples of behavior that might seem different or strange—like a grandparent repeating a question or not being sure of a name— offer plenty of reassurance and time to ask questions.

Before you go, help kids prepare by letting them talk on the phone with the loved one you’ll be visiting. It’s better to keep the first visit short, especially with younger children who might get tired or overwhelmed.

Plan an activity or distraction

Get kids excited before your visit by encouraging them to make something to bring their grandparent. It could be a card, drawing, or craft. This will make the children feel more involved, and be a nice treat for your parent.

One of the biggest hurdles during visits can be communication. Planning an activity can help overcome this barrier. Ask the community’s activities director what’s on the schedule and which activities allow visitors. Make sure to pick an activity that both the resident and children will enjoy. Many communities have plenty of all-ages options, like arts and crafts or bingo.

If you can’t find an activity that fits your family, feel free to bring your own entertainment. You can also encourage your kids to bring in favorite objects for a show-and-tell. This can be especially helpful when visiting memory care residents. “Bring a book or puzzle or bring in an achievement such as a trophy they just won at a soccer tournament. This also then gives the children something to talk about with the memory care resident,” says Renee Glasson, Memory Care Director at AlmaVia of Camarillo.

Keep the community in the loop

Try to call ahead and let staff know when you’ll be coming. “It’s best to first call so we can let the resident know that they should be expecting someone, but we will never turn away a visitor if it will be a meaningful experience for the resident,” says Ted Burgess, Executive Director at AlmaVia of Camarillo.

Staff members can let you know what time is best to visit for each resident. For example, meal times might seem ideal but this is often a time when memory care residents are distracted or receiving assistance from staff. “Though it may sound like a good idea, the resident will be focused on doing one task and multi-tasking can be very stressful for some residents,” says Glasson.

The relationship between kids and grandparents is special, and preparing ahead can make visits to elder care communities meaningful and rewarding for the whole family.