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How do you teach your child to be sensitive to other people’s woes?

From the time of Buddha, it’s a big parental dilemma… do you expose your child to the “real” world? Or do you – because you can – raise your child in a happy cocoon?

We, of course are the haves; we read parenting magazines and take well-informed decisions on what to teach our children; not all have an access to something like that – there are parents whose priority is to keep their family fed. Which means they have no time to provide emotional assistance, the way you and I can. As for financial and material, the children and the parents sorely lack what we would take for granted. But coming to the point – how do you tell your children just how privileged they are? And when do you tell them?

I’ve no answers to the questions – because on the one hand, it all seems so frivolous, when I insist my daughter sits in the a/c in the afternoons (because its boiling hot outside) and then tell her that there are kids who sleep four to a fan. It seems ridiculous to tell her that people wear hand-me-downs even on birthdays and Diwali, when I spend, without batting an eye-lid several thousands on her outfits. It seems pointless, and frustrating even, talking about it, when I know we’re all just going to read and go back to doing what we always do – upgrade computers for our children and order the latest books on Amazon for them.

So how do you reach out to the kids and make them reach out (or at least not close their eyes and ears to a world out there, not a tenth as lucky as they are)? Children who are too small will not understand; and if you leave it for too long, they won;t care. The in-between ages, aren’t they having enough on their minds? Do you need to add to their burden? But if you don’t teach them, aren’t you failing them as parents?
And then comes the how – do you tell your child to take public transport to experience the misery that’s a public bus in Chennai? Do you tell her to eat and drink in small way-side cafes, and see what it’s like? Except, none of us will have the heart to do this, definitely not on a sustained basis.

We want the best for our children – and we have every right to want it – so how do we do then teach them to spare a thought for the others?
I can only think of one option – if I don’t have the heart to make her face, first-hand, the “real” world, I at least have to make her experience it second-hand. By talking to under-privileged children, and spending some time with them. I happen to spend, because of my line of work, a lot of time with economically deprived people, and I know that money won’t solve their problems; they don’t want hand-outs; they don’t want sympathy; all they want is a chance to do their jobs and do it well, and be suitably rewarded for it. If anything, then, I want my daughter to learn to respect the contribution of every single person, no matter how small or menial their jobs, and when her time comes, to reward people who fetch and carry things for her, to reward them suitably.


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3 thoughts on “How do you teach your child to be sensitive to other people’s woes?

  1. Kritika Srinivasan

    Good point that you make Aparna. I do feel that it’s pointless to insist on certain things just to teach children the ‘value’ of what they have – why make them take the public bus when they can afford air-conditioned cars? What is more important is to, perhaps, instil in them respect – yes, and also empathy so they can understand that what they enjoy are privileges that most of India doesn’t. So when they grow up they will be willing to reach out and help the less fortunate – in whatever way – even as they continue enjoying the luxuries they can afford.

    One of our upcoming issues will be featuring an article on ‘Children and Community Service’, so that will explore – and hopefully answer – some of these questions!

  2. Aparna Karthikeyan Post author

    Kritika, ‘Children and Community service’ does sound very interesting. I look forward to that issue. And yes, reaching out makes so much sense – it’s the ‘how’ that often stumps even the most well intentioned parents…

  3. Meera

    Yes aparna — it is a discussion we have at home quite often. Should we send our daughter by bus, should we switch on the air conditioner during the day, when rest of Tamil Nadu has power only for 8 hours .. are questions that keep popping up. But I for sure think it is necessary to talk to children about these things , so they are aware and are able to reach out as kritika says when they grow up…
    In some cases schools can play a huge role in bringing about this awareness — the school our daughter goes to, insists on second class travel, basic accommodation and food for class trips which last 3-4 days– my daughter has been on these trips right from age of 8 and has never complained about the lack of facilities that she is otherwise used to!


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