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If We Plan To Teach Kids Compassion And Respect, We Need To Behave Ourselves First

Posted: August 1, 2016
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We need to model good behaviour ourselves first, if we are to teach kids compassion and respect for their fellow human beings.

Consider a scenario (true incident that happened to an acquaintance): A family going for a movie in their car. Papa is in the driver’s seat, the child beside him, the mother and grandma seated at the back. Now, papa is the aggressive type and so when a truck whooshes past the car, scratching his beloved car as a result, he cannot keep his temper under control.

He breaks out into an abusive rant, using the choicest of slang in his dictionary to metaphorically destroy the truck driver. The four-year-old child taking a cue from his dad, cranes his neck out of the car and copying him starts hurling abuses, as well. It was then that the elders were struck by the seriousness of the situation. But did the father have any solid logic to ask the child to not do something he himself was doing?

Children copy us

No matter what we teach our children, we can never forget that most of the lessons they’ll truly retain are the ones they learn from looking at OUR ACTIONS. You might as well ask your child to not lie but when she sees her mother asking her father to lie to someone over the phone and say she’s not home, it is that behavior that will stay with the child. Sad but true. When we expect our children to grow into kind, considerate, and responsible adults we need to walk the talk first.

So many things wrong with this

Consider another scenario which is quite a popular trend in the urban Indian cities, these days. A family of one or two young children accompanied by their parents has gone to a restaurant, along with a maid in tow. So, this domestic help will mostly be a teenage girl (sometimes even younger) following the family like a shadow.

Firstly, I feel quite concerned about the fact that this is child labor. But then again, if we don’t consider that for a while and accept that the mothers of young children do need full time help and these young maids wouldn’t have anyway had an access to a good life in their hometown, even then I find something quite jarring in the scenario.

I mostly observe these girls trying to merge into the background of the restaurant, while the family enjoys their meal. Occasionally, when the little child throws a tantrum she will emerge to take it outside and pacify it. Sometimes, I also notice these helps sitting at the table feeding the young child while the rest of the family has their meal without hassle. I am not saying everyone keeping a full time help does this but I’ve seen a LOT of such cases before my eyes to be bothered enough to write about this.

I see so many things wrong with this picture. Firstly, this girl is a child herself and she is being made to just stand in a corner other than the times she has to help. Secondly, what about her meal? Doesn’t she feel hungry or doesn’t she too feel like having something nice that these people are enjoying at the restaurant?

Finally, what is it that you’re teaching your children? Another human being can be used as a machine for the sake of convenience. That human doesn’t have any choices or desires; she can be treated as almost a non-human because she is poor? Sigh!

Teaching kindness and compassion – model it

We talk about the importance of kindness and compassion. We like statuses on Facebook where kindness or humanity had been displayed, we write comments on these posts like, ‘faith in humanity, restored’, we teach our children moral science out of their text books and yet when it comes to emulating kind and considerate behavior close to home, we choose to conveniently ignore the same. Would you really blame it on your child when they grow up to treat less fortunate people than them as merely objects to be used and not fellow human beings to be treated with respect and kindness?

Next, comes the way parents engage with people at the malls or with servers at restaurants. Irrespective of who you are, you have no right to treat people with disrespect. Have you seen people downright insulting a server at a restaurant because the food came in late or treating a salesperson at the mall with rudeness? Treating less fortunate people with arrogance and rudeness only goes on to show your character.

As J.K. Rowling has brilliantly written, If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” Your children are learning the same kind of behavior from you. They might also start judging people on the basis of their social strata and treat them rudely.

What ensues from this class consciousness is not a healthy, kind and compassionate child but a child who cannot think beyond his own interest. One who thinks that the entire Universe revolves around him. In an age obsessed with narcissism, are we not perpetrating such ideas even further into our children’s minds with such actions?

A few months back, a group of teenagers in a Mercedes ran over a young professional who was on his way to work. The car was going at a much higher speed than is warranted in Indian roads. Not only that, the car came from the wrong direction. The offender turned 18 after the incident which means he was not even within the legal age to drive. He had previous records of reckless driving as well. Can we only blame this teenager for this callous behavior? What about his rich parents who didn’t hesitate in handing over the keys of an expensive car to an underage driver?

I’d like to end with a beautiful post I read on Facebook sometime back– how a mother taught her children to be polite to people serving them. Seeing that her three children didn’t bother thanking the server at an ice cream parlor, the mother promptly threw away their ice creams. Yes, tough love. But sometimes it is necessary to etch a lesson into the child’s mind.

Children learn a great deal through our actions. So, let us first live a life of kindness and compassion in order to teach our children to tread upon the same path. Our only hope for a better world is sympathetic and considerate future citizens, so let us prioritize on making our children good human beings first.

Published here earlier.

Image source: shutterstock

Kasturi Patra

Kasturi Patra

Hey there! I'm Kasturi. A financial analyst by profession, my passion lies in creative writing. Besides short stories, I also love to write about issues that move me. When I'm not writing, you might find my face hidden behind the covers of a book. I'm a compulsive reader and a book hoarder. I'm also a staunch feminist who lives by the saying "If you sexist me, I will feminist you." I love animals and have adopted a few stray dogs and cats. I am spiritual by nature and I love visiting mountains, especially the ones where you have a lot of Buddhist monasteries. An introvert by nature, I find kindness to be the most appealing trait in humans. I look forward to hearing from you. 🙂 I blog at www.viakat.blog


Author's Blog: http://www.viakat.com/

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2 Comments


  1. OMG! These thoughts have been buzzing around my head a lot !! This is a very lucid post with fantastic content for us parents ! I have felt so strongly on this matter and your post Kasturi, nails it right on the head!! It certainly is pathetic how we so neatly compartmentalise into two very separate and opposing sections in our brains what we speak/how we wish to appear versus how we really act when we are put to the test in those situations!!! Like you say, we need to be role models because as the old saying goes-children do as we do, not as we say!! I think we as parents do have to introspect and question our own thoughts/actions often and change these processes because the kids of today are super evolved and intelligent to understand and figure out loop holes in logic and decision making and they have the confidence to call us out on our pretentions on the one hand. On the other hand they are also super intelligent to emulate us when it suits them and exploit a situation to their advantage when they perceive our own weakness or unwillingness to take the right and noble path ourselves!! And when this happens its silly for us to be affronted and outraged, because perhaps they have watched us display the very same deceptive or exploitive behaviour and also seen us get away with it, so they too copy it and expect the same. We have no on else to blame but ourselves if this happens. Like you rightly point out we must walk the path of righteousness ourselves first- by being compassionate and considerate to others and then we can expect the same from our kids towards others and us too!!

    • Kasturi Patra

      Sorry Sonia, I was not being able to post a comment her for a while. Yes, you’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head. Unless, we are ready to be nice human beings, we cannot expect our kids to be so.

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