The joy of intergenerational connection

Young children naturally practice the caring reciprocity of Partnership family and community relationships

by Suzanne Jones, CPS Partnership Community

A couple of decades ago, I read about research conducted on the development of male/female roles in children. I was surprised to read that at the pre-school level, ages 3 and 4, differences in relationship interactions and social values between children (males and males and females and females) were already surfacing. For example, as I recall, males would often play games such as King of the Mountain, where they would gain a hierarchical position, and then attempt to prevent other males from reaching that position. Females would play games such as “house” together, saying things to one another such as, “here, let’s _________ [do this together].

I was amazed to read how young these values appeared in these children. I remembered, also, an acquaintance telling me about a time when she watched her family members laughing while comparing the size of her five year old’s penis to the size of a neighbor child’s penis. We – parents, uncles, aunts, pre-school teachers – are the ones who instill these values in children at very young ages.

Information and examples such as these have made me very conscious of my words and actions around young children. One example: I am a singer and, when I sing in public, I choose not to sing songs in the Blues genre when children are in attendance. I realize that I don’t want to suggest to them that such sad things, like those that are often sung about in Blues song, are inevitable in life. I also choose to comment often, when I am working with children, male or female, about how nice it is that we have just accomplished something together.

Intergenerational Art Happening, Port Townsend, WA

Despite my concern that we may sometimes be modeling such things as inequality and lack of compassion, I believe that intergenerational connections in our societies are very important. It seems that these types of interactions have almost disappeared. Everyone is divided into age groups. I have felt sad and concerned about these divisions because this is where children can be shown how to act in compassionate and egalitarian ways.

Because of this concern, I thought about a project for several years that would bring people of all ages together to make art and music. Two summers ago, this project came to fruition, and now I (age 66) and my partner (age 37) work with other mentors to host a monthly Intergenerational Art Happening at a public place in our town. We have had people from age 2 to age 91 participate in our happenings. It is, as you can imagine, a great deal of fun, especially when you see children, parents and grandparents making a piece of art together.

Children can learn concepts such as collaboration, love and compassion at very young ages. A friend wanted to visit with me for a while. Her son had been learning Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model from her. She told her son that she wanted to talk with me, and asked him to play on his own or, if he needed something from her or his sibling, to be sure to use his words. He replied, “Oh, you mean like love and compassion?” He was six.

Another example: during a training at a charter school, two seven-year-olds being trained in Nonviolent Communication wanted help with a conflict. The teacher had made books for the children where words that expressed feelings and needs were listed. During the training, one of the children asked to see her book. She then read through the list of needs and told her friend, “I don’t like when you yell at me. I need trust and safety.” Instead of arguing with her, the second child simply said, “Okay.”

Another reason I like this idea of intergenerational interaction is that I believe this kind of interaction builds community resilience. Community resilience will be very important to our well-being in the immediate and distant future, so I will keep creating opportunities to build resilience through intergenerational interactions.

Suzanne Jones lives in Port Townsend, WA. She is a musician, artist, and co-directs a group called Resiliency of Heart (bringing people together for creative happenings, community workshops on Nonviolent Communication, and opportunities to participate in a Gift Economy.) Contact Suzanne:

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