Compassionate kids grow up to be compassionate adults. That is what our world needs from the next generation, compassion. Raising compassionate kids is extremely important to me as a mother.
Last year when our kids’ parent teacher conference’s, all their teachers mentioned how kind and compassionate they were and said that is something they don’t see often at school.
It made me a bit sad to hear that most kids lack compassion.
We have always tried to teach our kids compassion and to be honest, most of the time I feel like we are failing at that. However, once I heard the feedback from the teacher I wanted to know whether we were just lucky to be blessed with compassionate kids or if our work at home was paying off.
So, I did what I do best. I began researching! (If you don’t know, I LOVE research)
Turns out that luck probably wasn’t the case.
Compassion doesn’t come (completely) natural.
Plenty of research has shown that humans have evolved over time to FEEL compassion. Acting on that compassionate feeling is a nurtured trait. (Source)
Many times our culture has taught us to, in a sense, block out our ignore the call to action that the feeling of compassion is supposed to create.
To better explain this, envision a surly male figure hitchhiking down the interstate in the pouring rain. About a half mile earlier you saw a car on the side of the road with its flashers on. You realize that it must have been his car.
Your first instinct is probably thinking you should stop to help him. Almost as quickly, you decide that is a bad idea and keep on driving.
We are taught to be leery and cautious of people. It has gotten to a point though, that most people are able to turn a blind eye to almost anything.
Children must be taught to discern when it is okay to help someone and when to be appropriately cautious.
Here are some things we are doing to raise compassionate kids:
Teach them empathy.
What is the difference between empathy and compassion?
Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, taking into consideration how they feel and trying to feel that yourself. It’s imagining what that homeless man must feel like as he begs for your change.
Compassion is recognizing the suffering of someone or something and having the desire to stop the suffering. Take that homeless man I mentioned above, giving him some change is your compassionate response to seeing him begging on the street.
Without empathy it makes rationalizing our desire to act compassionately toward another more difficult. If we can’t feel how that homeless man feels, how can we act compassionately toward him?
Expose your children to diversity early and often.
We were at an advantage when we lived in a big city where diversity was abound. From a very early age our children were exposed to people of all nationalities and disabilities.
Letting children interact with people that are different externally teaches them that deep down, we are all the same. We all have feelings, strengths and weaknesses. Just because someone may look or act differently doesn’t mean they are any less human.
Allow children to feel big emotions.
It is important to let kids feel real, raw emotions and to teach them how to cope with those feelings. Take anger for instance, children experience this often and usually out of frustration.
Instead of fighting against your child’s anger, guide them through it. Ask them how they feel and why. Then, ask them if their anger is going to change anything. If not, perhaps it is not worth being angry.
The idea is to place a value of importance on a feeling. Sometimes these big emotions children feel can facilitate great action in the future.
When we are able to let go of anger we are able make room for positive emotions.
Secondly, helping our children navigate through their emotions instead of ignoring them teaches them to have compassion for themselves. Before you can truly show compassion for another, you must be able to show compassion to yourself.
The ideas in this section were adapted from this article by the Dali Lama.
Discuss worldly problems with your children.
There is a big mean world out there and most of us want nothing more than to shelter our children from it.
However, I feel by doing this we are doing our children a disservice. Shielding our children from the pain and sadness in the world is a sure fire way to create a “not my problem” attitude.
By exposing our children to these things in very small doses it develops a sense of caring in them. Discussing things with our children lets them know that we care about these issues as well. It allows us to talk about how and why these things happen and gives us the opportunity to discuss possible solutions.
Lead by example to raise compassionate kids.
Show your children your acts of compassion. Allow them to participate in your compassionate endeavors.
Consider how you talk to and about people in the presence of your children. Children are great imitators and I am a firm believer that the apples don’t fall too far from the trees. If we as parents exhibit less than savory behavior our children will as well.
Here are a few ideas to get your started:
Sponsor a needy child either domestically or abroad.
Donate items to a local animal shelter.
Donate food to a food pantry. We do this quite often. I give each child a budget and they are allowed to pick out non-perishable foods to donate. They really enjoy this and say how thankful they are that we always have food in our cabinets.
Visit a nursing home and spend time listening to the stories from the older generation. They really appreciate the company most of the time.
Volunteer for different causes in your community. If your children are old enough have them volunteer with you.
The idea here is to not only lead by example, but also to give your children the opportunity to participate in acts of compassion.
Raising compassionate kids takes work
Teaching kids to be compassionate is a long and continuous process. Your parenting style may change a bit as well.
You may also find that others start chastising you for your parenting choices. I deal with this all the time. Many people like to tell me that I am “too nice” to our kids.
Raising compassionate kids isn’t about being the “nice” parent. It is about showing your children compassion and them learning to model the behavior.
When you parent differently than the masses you are going to receive some push back. Take it in stride and know that your children will grow up to be better humans for it.
How do you teach your children compassion? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.