Teaching compassion should be one of the top priorities of child-raising. But how can parents teach their sons and daughters about kindness and empathy?
1. When should compassion be taught?
To begin with, many parents think that teaching compassion should be for older children, but it is not. The best time for teaching compassion is the sooner, the better.
The reason is that around the age of one year old, children start to socialize and get their very first idea about the world.
Though restrictive, they can learn about compassion – for example: giving and sharing.
Therefore, teaching them at this time will be easier and more effective.
Teaching compassion for toddlers can come from small actions.
Parents can ask them to share their toys while playing with them. If there are siblings in the house, you can ask both of them to share snacks.
2. The parents are role models
If you want to teach your children about compassion, it starts with you first.
Because the kids tend to watch the things that parents do, and imitate it.
Besides, all talk about compassion and no action will make the children clueless about the nature of compassion. They can not comprehend the concept of compassion clearly by telling only.
Instead, parents should be a good role model with actual actions, and the kids will follow suit.
So, even when it is just small actions, never hesitate to show your kindness and empathy. Children will see compassion through your actions.
Parents can offer help for people, for example, help an old woman cross the street, or pick up things that other people drop. Even giving your seat on the bus for an old man or thanking a person for holding the door for you.
Compassion starts at home, too. Always show your gratitude to your children when they help you with chores. Parents should also ask them to share things with another family member.
3. Encourage children to show compassion
Apart from setting yourselves a good example, encourage the kids to take part in compassionate activities is another way. After watching their moms and dads, they may want to do the same.
Under any circumstances, cheer them up on doing it. They will feel empowered and understand the joy of being compassionate.
For instance, when walking with your children and see a lost, crying kid, parents can ask: “Can you go and help him/her find his/her parent with me? He/she must feel terrible. Let’s cheer him/her up.”
Never turn down their effort to help, even if the result is not really good.
Don’t stop them just because they are clumsy. There will always be a first time of anything, you have to let them try their best first.
When your kids offer to help with washing the dishes, even though they can make a mess out of your kitchen or the dishes are not quite clean after the washing, let them do it. They will learn from mistakes and do better next time.
4. Acknowledge their effort and mistakes
When they have done something good, don’t hesitate to let them know it.
Even if they fail, always make sure that they know their effort to be compassionate is worthy.
But in the case they make mistakes, you should point out the wrong thing clearly. Make sure they understand but try not to hurt their feelings.
You can praise your children when they are doing good things for other people. Try to be specific about the goodwill of them:
- “It is so nice of you to help…”
- “I’m proud that you have done it well…”
- “I think they are happy because you …”
- “ You did a really good job on … . Let’s try better next time!”
Praising children in a good way can change their behaviors and mindset, make them open their hearts more willingly. Incorporate praise into your overall education plan is a must thing to do.
When the kids make a mistake, you should tell them clearly what is wrong, and how can they correct it. Be constructive. Leave the “I told you so”, and use this:
- “You know, you should not … . It is not a good thing to do. I hope next time, you won’t do that again.”
- “You seem pretty upset. Do you know what you did wrong?”
- “I know that you regretted … . An apology should help.”
Criticize your kids is not always a bad thing. Constructive criticism helps them to recognize their mistakes and push them to change for the better.
5. Use the media
Media has an impressive influence on people in general. It has always been a good means of education.
So in the plan of compassion teaching, parents should use media in various ways.
Parents can use books, videos, movies, music, etc to teach kids about kindness. You will be surprised at how effective they are.
For books, parents can choose the ones with simple writing and a clear message. The setting of the story should be familiar to the children; that way, your children will understand easily.
For teenagers, you can choose books like the biographies of the famous compassionate figures, such as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and the Peace Nobel Prize winner’.
These books can be in the paper, e-book or audio versions.
For videos and music, you can find resources online on platforms like Youtube or Spotify.
For toddlers, nursery rhymes are best, like this Compassion 4 Kid compilation. Teaching through songs will make the kid remember it longer.
For tweens and teenagers, inspiring and touching videos are good materials.
Even a commercial advertisement can have great power to spread compassion and kindness all around the world.
These kinds of videos can be found everywhere on the internet. Put some effort in searching and you will find a lot of useful things.
The media can be helpful for parents, too. There are numerous Youtube channels related to compassion teaching, so parents can search the keywords for it. For example, this is an informative TED Talk for parents aiming at teaching children about compassion.
6. Care for the others
To learn to take care of the other – whether it is a person, a pet or a plant – is a way for children to learn about empathy.
Caring for other people will also make the kids more responsible and reliable.
Parents with children can ask the siblings to take care of each other.
In this way, the children will be on both receiving end and giving end of compassion, making them understand more about it.
Taking care of siblings will also tie the relationship between family members.
In the case of a family with elders, you can talk with the littles about respecting and spending time with their grandparents.
The elders can teach them a lot about goodwill, and the child will also learn how to be a compassionate companion.
If there a grandma or grandpa next door, let the kids say hello and bring them homemade food – kindness comes from small things.
Moreover, children can learn about compassion when helping the disabled.
Explain to them that the disabled are still normal people just like them, but they have some difficulties in normal daily activities. So helping the disabled with these things will make their day.
Or if your kids have green fingers, don’t hesitate to let them have a small garden or even just a plant in the cup.
Teach them that they have to help the plants “drink” water and “feed” them to keep them alive and beautiful.
Growing a tree will teach children about caring and responsibility.
Adopt a pet will do similarly. A pet will also be a good friend for children.
When taking care of a pet, kids will learn to take responsibility for nurturing and loving it.
They will also know how to be dedicated to the wellbeing of other living things and not only theirs.
7. Ask your children
Communication is an important part of teaching children about compassion.
Remember that a child’s perception is different from an adult, so their opinions differ from an adult’s.
Parents should ask their kids “What do you think about …?” to listen to the voice of them.
This way, parents can be constructive – encourage good actions like helping a classmate.
Or find out something wrong – is your child a bully?.
Many young kids can not distinguish between teasing and bullying, so talking to them to correct their behaviors is necessary.
Good communication is especially useful for teaching teenagers about compassion.
Talking about how they feel, what they notice and why they do what they do in their daily life could help.
Helping your teenager develop empathy with talks is really important. Lacking communication can be detrimental to the relationship between parents and children.
8. Volunteer and charity
Taking part in voluntary work and contributing to charity organizations are common things to do in compassion teaching. So, parents should consider letting your kids practice that.
While doing good things, your children will also learn how to socialize with other kids.
Doing voluntary work together will make them believe more in kindness and empathy.
And the family can also take part in charitable together.
Parents can explain to your children that contribute to charity will help a lot of lives, and ask them if they want to join in.
After making a donation, you can show them the evidence of their donation actually making the world better.
There is a lot of charitable stories that eventually change someone’s life. Foundations like Make-A-Wish have been passionately helping children worldwide.
Parents and children can contribute to this foundation and watch their donation transform to hope for other less-lucky kids.
Teaching your child about compassion can not be done in a day, it will be a lifetime task.
So be patient and tolerant of your kids.
Take baby steps with them. Helping and watching them become kind and empathic.
A compassionate child will certainly make the world a better place to live.