We all want our children to be compassionate, but teaching this in our individualistic culture can be challenging. Here are my thoughts:
- Show compassion for your children from when they are babies. A person can only be compassionate if he has experienced compassion from others. We comfort babies when they cry, even when we don’t know the reason, and we don’t let babies cry to teach them a lesson or force them to fall asleep. Showing compassion to babies develops a capacity for compassion not only in the child but also in ourselves. By inuring ourselves to their screams we become less sensitive to the pain of others.
As a child grows, showing compassion when it is not needed can be harmful, like picking up a child’s shoe when she says she is too tired. But usually, focusing on the emotions behind the negative feelings while emphasizing correct actions will take us in the right direction.
- Children learn from our compassion toward younger children. When we show compassion to younger children, older children internalize our emotions and behavior. A discussion of compassion can help parents to explain to small children why needs of a helpless infant take priority.
- Model compassion for others in need. There is no shortage of ways to show compassion both within the family and out. When we come across someone in need we can enlist our children, explaining how and why we help others. For example, we find out what the person truly needs, talk sensitively to them, and listen.
- Teach children compassion through gratefulness. There are always others in worse situations.
What are your ideas for helping children develop compassion?
(Thanks to Abbi and Keren for the inspiration in the comments on Over-Parenting.)