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

466160763This blog post has been reproduced with permission from ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. The post is written by Aparna Karthikeyan, Parent Blogger.

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, don’t they have 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.