While having lunch on Monday with some co-workers, I couldn’t keep from glancing to the side at an adjacent table. There was an eight(ish)-year-old child with a woman who seemed to be either the girl’s older aunt or grandmother. On the surface, it looked like a nice, inter-generational date between two people.

But when I looked closer, I was a bit uncomfortable by the lack of warmth between them—although there were little smiles exchanged from time to time, there was little connection between the two. There were but a few words exchanged between them, and the adult’s responses to questions were short and brief. Much of the time was spent looking around the room, down at the menus or fidgeting with whatever was within arm’s reach. From my vantage point, neither seemed to truly gain anything from the experience.

It’s unsettling for me to see people physically together, but lacking any visible connection when all they have to do is make just a small conscious effort. Sure, it can be difficult to turn away from our to-do lists and adult responsibilities to get some focused, one-on-one time with a child or teen. And when the generation gap increases, it seems to be even more of a chore for both parties to engage each other. Their interests, points of view and sometimes even their language can seem so different. (Although, I personally found my grandma’s stories and spunky attitude fascinating, and as a result, we connected with each other when others found it difficult.)

But bridging the generational gap benefits both sides: Being around younger people can help you feel youthful, even. I remember how my grandma would light up with enthusiasm when we spoke—it was nice to see. And as the older person, you can help educate your young companion, and offer him or her the insights of your wisdom and experience.

 

As a mother of two who works in children’s TV programming, I’m around kids all the time. I typically use the four strategies below to really connect with them when we’re spending quality time together.

Get Personal – There’s nothing better than sharing with each other unique anecdotal stories that make each of you who you are. The more personal and sacred, the better—both parties should feel special to be privy to this type of semi-private information. My girls love the story of when my aunt talked a then nine-year-old me into cutting off my long hair, just like my aunt’s hair style, simply because I was too embarrassed to say no to her.

Be a Student – Whether it’s something he learned in school, a magic trick or a joke, have him share it with you, and then repeat it to him afterward. In this way, he’ll believe that something he said or shared with you was important enough for you to remember.

Go one-on-one – It doesn’t matter if you have one or five children or grandchildren—if you’re looking for long overdue quality time, try to schedule it so you can spend alone time with each one individually. The undistracted focus on one child at a time does wonders. Just don’t forget to spread the wealth among the others.

Focus on quality over quantity – You don’t have to plan a full day of non-stop activities to get the most of your time together. Whatever time you have, dig in, learn from each other and, if you allow it, you may just come out knowing a little more about yourself.