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Teaching Children Respect for the Elderly During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

By Joannie DeBrito, Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT
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Elderly person and child
Sadly, reverence for the elderly is sometimes in short supply in today’s youth-oriented culture. Because they may be slowing down and having more difficulty moving around, there is an assumption that what elderly people have to offer is also in short supply. On the contrary, they have the most to contribute.

Wise Advice

When I was about 30 years old, a very wise, older friend of mine gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. She told me that as I went through life, I should seek out friends who were younger, the same age, and older than myself.

“Younger people,” she said, “will remind you that there are newer and better ways of doing things.” She went on to explain that they would also challenge me to be more spontaneous and shed fears that I might have developed from knowing a little too much. “Those who are your contemporaries,” she surmised, “will be able to relate to you. They will offer practical help to help you manage the ups and downs of life.”

Then she paused, as if to make the last point really important. She told me that those who were older would be able to provide wise counsel from a much broader, more realistic, and usually hopeful perspective. Of the many experiences I have treasured in my life, having older mentors to advise, guide, and encourage me has been something I am truly grateful for. Because of this, I want to make sure that my children and grandchildren fully understand the importance of respecting the elderly.

Passing Along Wisdom to Younger Generations

Now, as my grey hairs and wrinkles become more prominent, those who mentor me are among the elderly. I value some of them as my leaders and others as people I’m called to care for. I think it’s important for all of us, including our children and grandchildren, to embrace and respect the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. When I received that piece of advice many years ago, I didn’t know that it was not only a good idea but something that I was called to do by God.

Scriptures tell us in Leviticus 19:32: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”

We become wiser as we age, in most cases, because of the many things — good and bad — we experience in life. And we learn much that we need to pass on to younger generations. In Titus 2:4, older women are instructed to teach younger women what they know.

Sadly, respect for the elderly is sometimes in short supply in today’s youth-oriented culture. Because they may be slowing down and having more difficulty moving around, there is an assumption that what elderly people have to offer is also in short supply. On the contrary, they have the most to contribute because of the number of years spent on this Earth. Also, as we turn our focus to the absolute sanctity of the life of a preborn baby, we sometimes forget that every human being is a precious and valued gift from God, regardless of age. So we need to embrace the elderly, to learn from them, and to care for them as needed, in order to show them the respect they deserve.

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Ways to Show Love to Our Elders

Showing Love to Elders Sound in Mind and Body

If you have elderly family members or neighbors, I encourage you and your children (and grandchildren if you have them) to reach out to them.  Let’s start by helping children see the many ways we can all learn from those who are still living with a sound mind and body.

  1. Share fears about the coronavirus with your elderly loved ones and wait for their response. In many cases, you will find that they’ll offer comfort as they tell you that this current crisis is much like many others they’ve experienced and survived.
  2. Ask them how they’ve been able to weather other storms of life. Most likely, they’ll have some practical advice for you and be able to help you see this pandemic from a broader perspective.
  3. Lean into them for affection and assurance. Over the years, many elderly people have learned that warm hugs, soft voices, and comforting words go a long way to alleviate fears. And, they’ve had plenty of time to master these skills to the benefit of their friends and family members. Let your children benefit from the well-tuned hug of a trusted, elderly person.
  4. Remember that when you and your children ask an elderly person for help, you give them the opportunity to serve you and to feel important, respected, and appreciated.
  5. Help your children feel comfortable around elderly people by asking them to talk about experiences your kids can relate to such as going to school or riding a bike.

Showing Love to Elders Weak in Mind or Body

On the other hand, if there is an elderly family member or friend in your life who is weak in mind or body, take the time as a family to show the love of Christ to him or her by doing the following:

  1. First, ask him or her how you can help. What do they currently need? Next, choose one or two ways that you can meet a need. Then, get your children actively involved in serving the older person.
  2. Spend time connecting personally with an elderly family member or friend. Have a conversation, read a book together, play some music, play a game, or cook for him or her. Whatever you do, be in the presence of the older person to communicate love and respect and do it on a regular basis. If you aren’t able to be near due to required social distancing, try communicating via a letter, email, sign, Skype, or phone call. Older people love to have contact with children because it reminds them of their younger years.
  3. Human touch is powerful and can sometimes communicate more than the spoken word. So if you and your children are able to hold a hand, do so. However, if there is too much risk involved due to the coronavirus, drop off a stuffed animal, blanket, or another soft item for the elderly person to hold and caress.
  4. Make sure the older person is eating and staying hydrated. If they are not, have your children help prepare some food and go with you to drop off a meal that he or she can easily eat without needing to do much preparation.
  5. Elderly people love homemade gifts from children of all ages. Don’t hesitate to drop off drawings, stories, or other creations, made from the heart.

Embrace the Elderly

Let’s all remember that the elderly are to be revered by those younger than themselves and to be appreciated for having lived a long life. As expressed in Proverbs 16:31, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”

Therefore, embrace and respect your elderly family members and friends, and help your children do the same, as we all struggle through this health crisis together. Look to them for comfort and seek to serve them. Both of these actions will benefit you and the elders in your life and more importantly, will glorify the Lord.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. First published on FocusOnTheFamily.com in April.

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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About the Author

Joannie DeBrito, Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT

As the current Director of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family, Joannie DeBrito draws from over 30 years of diverse experience as a parent educator, family life educator, school social worker, administrator and licensed mental health professional.

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