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Teach your kids about the dignity of labour
Rupal Patel
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July 18, 2007

We all want our children to grow into successful, confident and happy individuals -- we want them to have the best of everything. But we need to remember that teaching them good values and fostering gratitude in them for what they have, is also a big part of parenting.

Five star hotels, travelling by plane, air-conditioned cars, mobile phones, cable television and so many other luxuries are an integral part of life today. Of course, parents who can afford such comforts want their children to share them too. At the same time, however, it is important to teach them to value their privileged lifestyle, as well as respect those who lead more modest ones -- they should be taught not to look down upon people who have less than they do, nor demean them in any way. Educate your children about the dignity of labour.

When it comes to daily routines, for instance, most children today are used to the domestic help taking care of all their chores. As a responsible parent, you need to teach them that maidservants are not to be ordered around -- they are to be spoken to politely and respected. Also, have the kids pick up after themselves as much as possible -- for example, you can have them carry their own plates into the kitchen after a meal, have them put washed and ironed clothes back into their closets, and get them to put their toys away after playtime sessions. In the process, they will earn respect for those expected to perform these tasks for them, responsibility and independence. At the same time, when your house staff is on leave, it will become easier for the children to manage things and you will have a helping hand.

Children should be made aware of all those who make life easier for them -- they need to understand that while a watchman, a sweeper or an office peon may not have as cushy a job as either of their parents, all three have a vital role to play in society. They make life easier for others, and if everyone refused menial jobs, we'd have to start doing them ourselves.

Impress upon your kids that an honest living is a respectable living, whether it is made in a plush office or by the roadside. They need to be appreciative of hard work and of those who play a role in society. Somebody once told me that a child refused to speak in Hindi because it was the 'servants' language'! Obviously, the youngster must have heard an adult say something to that effect. We are so lucky to live in a country that has so many diverse cultures, languages and religions and at the same time adapts Western comforts to make life easier for us and our kids need to know that.

Children tend to discuss their parents' occupations and are sometimes ashamed of them because of what friends may say. This can happen at any age, to kids who are little more than toddlers, or then to teenagers. The son of a shopkeeper may wish his dad was a doctor like so-and-so's, or a lawyer. Moreover, the children of domestic help are today growing up to obtain MBA degrees and secure jobs in the airlines -- for them to cope with their parents' humble occupations of sweeping and scrubbing the homes of the affluent, or then manning the gate of a housing complex, is difficult. They need to realise that education isn't the be-all and end-all of a respectable life; after all, it is through hard work that their parents were able to fund their academic activities.

And they will come to realise this as soon as the stigma attached to menial jobs is eliminated. How will it be eliminated? If you and your family learn to foster respect for those who make an honest living, no matter how.

It's a wonderful thing to teach your children charity -- several parents have their kids donate old toys, books, clothes, school supplies etc to the needy. But make sure that they don't consider those at the receiving end to be below them. Take them for a visit to an orphanage and take some gifts for the underprivileged. Teachyour kids to donate a small amount each month from their pocket money, and from their salaries when they grow up. Allow them to decide how much money to set aside and which needy person or institution they would like to help and in what manner. This will help them develop compassion, but it can also be a lesson in equality -- one who has less than you deserves your kindness and goodwill, but is not less important than you.

Whatever you want your children to learn and whatever you say, always remember that your actions speak louder than your words. They are watching you and learning from you all the time. So the best way to teach them anything is to model them yourself. You are your children's best teacher and teaching them respect for others may be the best gift you ever give them.

Rupal Patel has done her child psychology from the National School of Health and Sciences, London [Images]. She also holds a diploma in early child care and education ORT India and Oxford. Rupal has been holding workshops for parents for the last five years.

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