by Jaclyn Guenette
“How do I explain dementia to children?” has been a question asked to me over and over throughout the years. Let’s be honest, dementia is difficult to understand. There are several disease types so it’s complex and often presents differently for different people. I have been privileged to work on a secured dementia unit with families and individuals living with dementia. My role as a Registered Social Worker allows me the unique opportunity to connect with families and address their specific concerns, questions, and needs. When asked about explaining dementia to children, I would pause. I knew the importance of creating a safe and open dialogue with children. I knew parents could greatly benefit from tools to help them cultivate understanding and knowledge. Throughout my search for children's books and parent resources, I found a wealth of excellent stories and information. I also realized that throughout this journey, my own story developed in my heart.
“I Smile for Grandpa" is greatly inspired by my own three children and their understanding of the dementia. I love bringing my children to visit the patients and residents at the care facility I work in. These experiences are rewarding and enriching for everyone involved. Last Halloween, I brought my children in for a visit, all dressed up in their costumes. My five year old son was dressed as a Police Officer and didn’t break character once. He had a stack of “post-it" notes, given to him from our front receptionist. He would approach the patients and proceed to give out handwritten tickets in a playful and comical way. My heart swells thinking about it. The unit buzzed with a sense of excitement over the visit from the pint sized Police Officer, Star Wars character, and little Genie with pink hair. To this day, there are patients with “post-it" note tickets hanging in their room.
I have learnt a lot from these experiences both personally and professionally. We need to keep children involved and included. We need to be open and honest with kids about dementia diseases. We need to have conversations in language that children can understand. We need to allow kids to ask questions, feel included, and discover their own unique way of maintaining or establishing a connection. That is why, in addition to the story, adults will appreciate the “Tips for Parents” and the “Question & Answer” sections included in this book.
“I Smile for Grandpa” is a look into the relationship between my three children and their grandfather. Soccer, camping, and taking long walks are a few of the favorite activities shared together. As the disease progresses in the story, these activities need to change but spending time with one another does not stop. It was important to me that the book explored new ways to enjoy these favorite activities together. The goal is to maintain a meaningful relationship full of love and acceptance.
My partnership with Kathryn Harrison to bring “I Smile for Grandpa" to life has been a truly rewarding experience. Together we have worked to launch a book that really helps bridge the gap between those living with dementia and the children that surround them. Kathryn’s illustrations create a bright, inviting, safe space for kids to explore the topic. Kids love the adorable little creatures and animals thoughtfully placed throughout the book. The main character “little buddy” is relatable for all children. In fact, all three of my children believe “little buddy” is them. It was wonderful to grow this project with Kathryn and FlipTurn Publishing.
My personal journey learning and exploring about dementia over the years has inspired a deep desire to help create awareness and promote understanding. My hope is that families will benefit from “I Smile for Grandpa" through their journey with dementia.
About the Author
Canadian Writer, Jaclyn Guenette, is a mother of three young children. She is a Registered Social Worker and Designated Capacity Assessor. Jaclyn is dedicated to working with families living with dementia and creating awareness and understanding of this complex group of diseases.
Connect with Jaclyn Guenette
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