Child’s Play: How Preconceptions Influence Intergenerational Interactions

As a child, my grandmother always told me that spending time with me was medicine to her. In support of this belief, a residential care community in South Africa has developed programs that help to increase intergenerational relationships that consequently serve to support well-being. Although I never truly understood what my grandmother meant, a new study involving residents within the community sheds light on potentially what she meant and why.

Within the Cape Peninsula Organization for the Aged complex lies a community that includes both housing for older adults and a children’s preschool. For an hour twice a week, children (aged three to five years) play interactive games with older adults, such as passing a ball to each other and building puzzles. Additionally, older adults can volunteer to read to the children while the children take part in special events targeting older adults, such as singing to them on holidays.

In a cross-sectional study published in PLOS ONE, researchers examined how the intergenerational interactions within the community influence mental health among older adults  who lived there. The study included 10 respondents over the age of 60 from a range of economic and cultural backgrounds. Respondents were asked to complete a questionnaire that included questions about their demographics and mental health. (The Geriatric Anxiety Scale and the Geriatric Depression scale assessed risk of anxiety and depression, respectively.) Respondents were then interviewed and asked open-ended questions about their interactions with the preschool children.

The results indicate that older adults with more intergenerational interactions exhibited greater sense of belonging and sense of purpose, as well as more positive affective experiences. However, the benefits of intergenerational interactions were influenced by participants’ preconceptions of children. When the children responded to the older adults more favorably, the older adults perceived the children more favorably and reaped the benefits.

In trying to understand what my grandmother meant, research has thus made it clear that affection provided by children, rather than the intergenerational relations themselves, can enhance well-being.


Want to keep up with recent research that’s relevant to aging services? Use the form below to subscribe to our monthly InvestigAge email.



Elizabeth Jane Earl, & Marais, D. (2023). The experience of intergenerational interactions and their influence on the mental health of older people living in residential care18(7), e0287369–e0287369.

Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

Download FREE Copy

    Add insight to your inbox

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute. Just complete the form below to subscribe.

    Thank you!

    You are now subscribed to the email list.
    A confirmation has been sent to the email you provided.

    Continue to Website Share with a Friend