RESPECTING ELDERS starts from home

Treating elders with respect is a signifi cant part of life skills. Antara Pandit shares how, through meaningful conversations with children, parents can help them understand the importance of respect

’If they respect you, respect them. If they disrespect you, still respect them. Do not allow the actions of others to decrease your good manners, because you represent yourself, not others.’– Mohammad Zeyara

I have often heard many elders who are a product of the ‘baby boomers’ generation (born between 1946 and 1954) as well as those before and after, talk about why vital life skills like kindness, empathy, respect, gratitude and so on, need to be taught today. Being a woman and mother from the millennial generation, do I agree with this? Yes, whole-heartedly! Why does it seem like these skills came naturally to our preceding generations even during their childhood, while in today’s world, these life skills have to be excavated from within people? We are born with the capacity and ability to be humane. As a part of parenting 101, growing up, we were all raised to be kind and respectful to others. However, our experiences shape us, and somewhere along the way, this capacity to exhibit qualities that make us humane diminishes. With our children growing up in a world that is overwhelmed by strife and screaming out loud for compassion, respect and empathy, how do we ensure that they do not lose themselves and forget the qualities that make them good human beings? In order to understand something, drilling down to the crux of the matter usually does the trick. When I see lack of emotion or empathy from a child or an adult, or if I see a young child speaking disrespectfully to their caretaker or any adult, for that matter, my immediate reaction is a non-judgemental ’Why?’ As quick as we are to compare another child to our own, very often things are not black and white, as in this case it does not necessarily mean that the child was never taught respect. No parent would ever sideline compassion for others and respect completely; however, the importance placed on it varies. If children see their parents treating themselves and each other with respect, it will lay the foundation for how they learn to treat themselves and others around them. Helping our children understand that respect for yourself comes first, and only then can you learn to be respectful to others around you. This needs to be reinforced continuously throughout their growing years. Telling them that ‘You need to respect elders’ may very well fall on ignorant ears; not out of purposeful ignorance but because children need rational explanations in order to truly understand, just like adults do. For example, in many families, touching the feet of elders when greeting them signifies respect and is a form of receiving blessings. My boys Dev and Shiv, 5-and-a-half and 3 years old do it – but only because they are told to. They do not yet understand the significance behind it; we plan to introduce the ‘why’ behind this soon. How do we teach respect to young children in an age-appropriate manner? This is where empathy plays a very crucial role.

International schools like the ones’ my boys go to include the cultivation and practice of various life-skills into their daily curriculum. Teaching life-skills, of course, is not a job only for schools, but it begins at home.

Empathy is putting yourself in another person’s shoes and feeling what they feel. It is at the very core of humanity. This is a skill that is embedded in our DNA and to me is life-altering, because it can make or break who we are as people. If I hear Dev speak in an impolite manner to not only an elder but even to someone his own age, I immediately ask him how he would feel if someone spoke to him the same way. Children’s voices are unfiltered and so I know that while his intention would have been to get his point across, the effect would have been otherwise. Even at 5-and-a-half, the concept of empathy is easy to understand as the mind is uncluttered and a sponge to new thoughts and experiences. So, if we can raise our children to always empathize with those around them, respect will automatically follow.

If your child has been rude or disrespectful, talking about things once they are calm is key. I have learnt that talking to them during the situation is not the most ideal time about limits or consequences. At a later time, setting expectations can help set the tone for future behaviour. Intervening with children from the time they can communicate can lead to positive results. Even though it may not seem like it from all the protesting that follows, children really do want limits!

Although they may not thank us now, they sure will once they have children of their own!

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