Young children and elderly people with diminished capabilities have a lot in common. For example, both groups have similar limitations that can make taking care of them challenging. They require a high degree of care and patience. Both groups can have physical limitations; generally they are not as mobile or as dexterous as the rest of the population. Another similarity would be their limited cognition and reasoning. There is also the need to address a lack of control over one’s bodily functions. I’ve also seen that elderly people can be sensitive, just like little ones. Yet, through all of this, both groups defend their autonomy and dignity with gusto…and rightfully so. Autonomy is a basic human need. For us, the caregivers, all of this can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. This might not be an eloquent comparison, but it helps make a point.
The point is this: Here we have two different groups with very similar challenges but the groups are thought of quite differently with regard to respect. No one in their right mind would act like they owned an elderly person who they were taking care of. No one in their right mind would forcefully handle or spank an elderly person. No one in their right mind would threaten, talk down to, or yell at an elderly person. No one in their right mind would try to strip away the autonomy of an elderly person, controlling their every move.
We are not in our right minds when we do these things to kids. There is no logical argument that exists as to why any of this would be acceptable. It would be considered abuse or assault if we did these things to another adult, but when we do it to kids it can be explained away as discipline.
The bottom line is this: we need to treat people with the same level of respect regardless of age or ability. I don’t always succeed. But, there is no real justification for treating children with less respect. Being a caregiver of any kind is challenging, but we need to be mindful to treat those in our care with dignity and kindness.