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Creating New Holiday Traditions: 10 Questions to Ask Your Older Relatives

Mother and Daughter laughing by FangXiaNuo/Getty Images.

By Kimberly E. Hiroto, PhD (Clinical Geropsychologist, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Tacoma, WA) and Glenn Smith, PhD (Clinical Neuropsychologist and Elizabeth Faulk Professor and Chair, Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Florida)

The holidays are often about three Rs: relationships, reflection, and remembering. Research suggests that as we age our view of relationships changes. Older generations tend to focus on intergenerational similarities, while younger generations focus on their differences, possibly in an effort to form their own identities (Giarruso, Du, & Bengtson, 2004).

It is important for individuals to do this work – to form their own identities, different from their parents and family. However, we also risk losing something in this process – appreciation for our family heritage, understanding of the hardships our family members may have endured and the resiliencies they possess, and gratitude for the privileges we hold as the next generation.

Take a moment to think about your grandparents or other older relatives. Consider what their lives were like growing up. What were they like at your age? What events helped shape their view of the world? This holiday season, amid the stress of shopping and preparing for guests, we invite you to set aside a few minutes to sit with an older family member or friend interested in sharing parts of their story. Simply start a conversation, and take time to listen. You might be surprised what you learn about the person across from you. You might be surprised by how much you have in common, and perhaps learn a bit more about yourself in the process.

Not sure how to begin? Here are 10 questions to help get the conversation started:

  1. What is your earliest memory?

  2. What were your parents like?

  3. Outside of your family, what person most influenced you?

  4. Growing up, what was your neighborhood like?

  5. How did you earn your very first paycheck?

  6. If you had a spouse/life partner, how did you meet him/her?

  7. Tell me about your most memorable vacation?

  8. What was your favorite pet?

  9. What is the most amazing invention in your lifetime?

  10. What do you wish for 2016?

For information on steps individuals of all ages can take to live a happy and healthy life, take a look at APA’s Life Plan for the Life Span .

We’d like to hear from you: What are your memories of conversations with older family members?   What did you learn?   What surprised you?

Share your thoughts in the comment section.


Giarruso, R., Du, F., & Bengtson, V. L. (2004). The intergenerational-stake phenomenon over 20 years. Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, 24, 55-76. by FangXiaNuo/Getty Images.


Kimberly E. Hiroto, PhD is a Clinical Geropsychologist at the Puget Sound VA American Lake Division in Washington State. She serves aging veterans living with complex chronic and often life-limiting illnesses in Primary Care Mental Health and outpatient Geriatric Mental Health. She received her doctoral degree from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in Clinical Psychology with a curricular emphasis in geropsychology and completed an internship in geropsychology and a fellowship in hospice/palliative care at the Palo Alto VA. She is a member of the APA Committee on Aging.

Glenn Smith, PhD is a board-certified Clinical Neuropsychologist and Elizabeth Faulk Professor and Chair of the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska, completed his internship in neuropsychology and geropsychology at UCLA and a fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at the Mayo Clinic.  He currently serves as Chair of the APA Committee on Aging.

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