Here are some ways to help teach compassion
Compassion and kindness are traits that all parents wish to cultivate in their children. When you tell a child that compassion is “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress combined with a desire to alleviate it,” their eyes will probably glaze over in confusion. Compassion can be difficult to define if you try to express in adult terms. Children need examples of compassionate behavior that are explained in simple terms.
In the world today, it’s more important than ever to teach children the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Teaching children compassion prevents insulated thinking and will help make them aware how important it is to be kind and help others.
1. Promote sweetness
- Show how to be gentle.
- Speak softly. Your kindness will be a role model for how to treat others.
- Reject rudeness. Compassion requires that your child respect others.
- Say “I’m sorry.” If you’ve been short-tempered with your child, apologize to him. All parents make mistakes. It’s how you address them afterward that makes the difference. He’ll learn that everyone, even Mom, admits it when she’s wrong.
2. Enforce rules
Consistent limits help your toddler see that his/her behavior (and misbehavior!) affects others.
- Provide structure.
- Expect your child to help.
- Use manners to connect.
3. Guide friendship
Stay tuned in during playtime so you can help your child figure out how to be a friend.
- Outlaw name-calling. Compassion starts with what’s acceptable and what’s not. Explain to your child — often — that being kind to others is the rule. You can tell her when she gets into a tiff, “You don’t have to like that person, but everyone has to be nice.”
- Give consequences. If the be-nice rule is broken, stick with simple, concrete consequences such as a brief time-out or losing a special toy for a day. A 3-year-old’s abstract thinking is weak, so she’s too young to understand that being nice is morally the right thing to do; your efforts, therefore, should be directed at helping her resist impulses so she won’t get in trouble.
- Label kindness. When you catch your child offering a shovel to a friend in the sandbox, label her actions by saying “What a good friend you are,” or “You’re very thoughtful.” Over time, she’ll understand that being a helpful friend, sister, neighbor, and human being is something you value.
- Be considerate yourself. While it’s tempting to hand out birthday party invitations at the park instead of going to the trouble of mailing them, explain to your child that kids who see other children getting invitations but don’t receive one themselves may feel hurt. And all through the year, get her in the habit of sending cards to friends and relatives who could use a kind word: thank you notes, sympathy cards, get well wishes. For a child not yet up to writing a message, even a drawing is great.
- Don’t trash talk. Kids, as we know, are always listening. How we talk on a daily basis about our own siblings, parents, and relatives tells them a lot. If children hear us saying something really negative about Grandma, they learn that it’s OK to talk that way, says Suzanne Coyle, Ph.D., a mom and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. So keep meanness in check: “Show them you have a spirit of kindness and generosity.”
4. Encourage helping
With their increasing awareness and independence, preschoolers are ready to participate, if you show them how.
- Give pennies. Kids want to feel they can make a difference, so bring charity down to their level. “Every week the children bring in pennies and count them,” says Nancy Mane with, director of the Board of Jewish Education Early Childhood Centers of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois. “It’s just part of our pre-math program.” Then the pennies go to charity or to buy mittens and scarves for poor children, which opens the door to conversations about war and poverty.
- When talking to your own child about such things be honest, but don’t feel you have to include every scary detail. Keep explanations simple, and ask simple questions, like “How can we help them?” If his allowance is five dimes, ask him how many dimes he’d like to set aside to give to a food bank or drop in a collection jar. Giving him the choice will make him more excited about the idea.
- Assign chores. The habit of helping others starts with chores at home. Children love to feel capable, so assign a manageable task like setting the table or feeding the cat. Make a schedule and put it on the fridge so your child can keep track of what he needs to do
- Use stories. Reading books together can be a natural way to help your child start to understand that children aren’t all the same. Books like “Faith the Cow,” by Susan Bame Hoover, about how the gift of a cow can change the life of a poor family, or “Houses and Homes,” by Ann Morris, which has photos of houses around the world, can show that kids in other countries want the same things: to feel safe, to be liked, to learn things, to have fun, and to be with their families.
- Point out heroes. The siren of a fire truck, not to mention a newspaper photograph of a bomb attack, can make a 4-year-old worry. Shield him from disturbing images as much as possible, but when he hears or sees something frightening, focus the conversation on the firefighters, rescue workers, doctors, or volunteers who are there to help us.
5. Build on their smarts
Your child’s made cognitive and emotional leaps — help him understand others’ feelings.
- Explore feelings. With an increasing vocabulary, a 6-year-old is able to communicate more about emotions. Talking about book characters is a good way to help. “We’d read Snow White and I’d ask, ‘Why do you think the witch was jealous of Snow White?'” says Rev. Gatta, who’s also a mom of a 12-year-old. “Later, maybe in the car, we’d talk about characters’ motives and feelings.”
- Monitor media. If the characters on television are hitting each other or calling each other names, shut off the TV or, at least, talk about what’s going on. Children don’t just watch TV, they internalize it, and they don’t get irony, so be careful of what they’re memorizing.
- Expect more. When it comes to your child’s responsibility to be caring and compassionate, set your standards high. Don’t let teasing or bullying go unaddressed. At 7 and 8, kids are starting to be able to see the world from another person’s perspective. In a complicated and troubled world, it’s easy to feel that nothing we do will make a difference. This can lead to compassion burnout — for us and for our kids. The key is to start small.
Developing compassion in children may be an antidote to the epidemic of bullying and aggressive behavior. It all starts in our homes. Parenting is a difficult task, but focusing our efforts on assisting our children in better understanding and mirroring prosocial behaviors is where real-world change begins.
Some information taken from CNN.com