As children get older, they are exposed to different kinds of people. If we want to share our belief system with them, we must influence them first at home. Children who are left without guidance from their family are often misled by other people. We should be our child’s first teacher about life. Some subjects, like age discrimination, can be difficult to broach. The best way we teach our children is by our actions. They will learn how to treat others by watching us. Even when children are small, they intuitively sense who we respect and who we don’t. Age discrimination is one of the most overlooked prejudices today. It is most often shone through stereotyping and euphemisms.
Things are often said that imply prejudices about our older citizens, but we don’t even realize it. Someone says, “ that was a Senior moment,” or “pretty good for an old lady,” and that doesn’t strike us as negative. Children, however, take everything literal until they are old enough to discern between nuances. When our kids hear us say things like that, they begin to note in their brain that something is “different” about “old” people. Eventually, they get the idea that seniors are feeble or forgetful; that older people can’t work or be physically fit.
The best way to handle age discrimination with our children is to begin new and model respect for all types of people. If the grandparents are in their life, that is an excellent opportunity to start a conversation. If they tell you that, “Grandma is old so she doesn’t work,” you have just been given a great starting point for a life lesson. You can explain to the child that Grandma being old doesn’t have anything to do with her not working. As you tell them about the job grandma used to have or about grandma being a stay at home mother- you teach the child that age is not a deterrent to work. Grandma earned the right to “retire” and do fun things because she worked so hard before.
Children need to learn that age is not a factor in activity or fitness. Help them see older people as wise and experienced. You can talk about how our bodies change as we age but let them know that older people can still do sports, work out and maintain a healthy life. If children hear you talking positively about all the older people you see, they will learn that aging is a positive experience. Also, provide positive experiences for your child to interact with the elderly through church or other activities. The most important thing to remember is that children learn what we model.