For some time now, I’ve advocated that primary caregivers should take advantage of all the resources that are available to them. With that said, how many of you have considered making your children part of the caregiving plan? It’s a better idea than you might think.

An article from U.S. News that I received from The National Alliance for Caregiving states that there are about 1.4 million 8- to 18-year-olds who are helping out with the caregiving responsibilities of an elder loved one at home. Not surprisingly, about 75 percent of these children are part of a family caregiving team and find themselves helping a grandparent suffering from chronic concerns like dementia, heart disease or diabetes.

If you’re considering recruiting your children to become part of your caregiving efforts, please remember that not everyone — child or adult — was put on this earth to be a caregiver. Sit down and talk to them first to determine what they might be comfortable doing to help. As I write this, children are helping loved ones get dressed, eat, bathe and even use the bathroom. Others prepare meals, go grocery shopping or do simple chores around the house like clean up the kitchen, wash dishes or make the beds.

There are a number of benefits for the children you bring on to your team. This is a character building experience for young people, as it helps them learn kindness, social awareness, generosity and compassion. Another National Alliance on Caregiving report stated that “youth caregivers felt more appreciated than non-caregiving kids with 79 percent of 8- to 11-year-old caregivers feeling appreciated “a lot” for their help.” Two years ago, a local high school senior approached me to help her with her senior project. Her mission was to promote a better a understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Her motivation? Her grandfather had Alzheimer’s and she truly enjoyed being with him and wanted to help. I’m proud to report that she not only received an “A” on her project but upon graduation she entered nursing school in the same state as her grandfather so she could be near him.

In the interest of full disclosure, there is a downside. If their participation becomes a burden, it can result in missed school and falling behind in their school work. If overburdened, they may experience anxiety, have difficulties getting along with others, become disobedient, withdraw socially, become irritable or disrespectful and become impatient. I realize that I may have just described about 75 percent of the teen population at some point, but if they’re helping with caregiving you need to watch for these signs.

As I said, you need to talk with them to determine how they’d like to help. Bathing grandpa or helping grandma to the toilet may simply be to much to ask of them. Most adults have the capacity to “take one for the team” and rise above the challenges that come from toileting a loved one. Most children don’t. At the risk of repeating myself, there are those who are born nurturers and others, not so much. If you’re finding that the responsibilities you’ve assigned them are having an impact on their schoolwork and taking them out of the loop of living a normal childhood life, it’s time for Plan B.

In the event that you have a child who has said, “There is no way, no how that I want to be any part of this caregiving situation,” that doesn’t excuse them from helping indirectly. Hopefully they already have other responsibilities around the house, so reminding them how important it is that they cut the lawn, set the table, fill the dishwasher or put the clothes in the dryer is also critical.

Engage your children and make them part of the solution. You could find them to be valuable resources.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. And...Join the Journey.

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer's care specialist. His website is www.careforcaregivers.org.

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