Raising a compassionate child begins at home. Learning compassion is no different from learning other social skills; children learn to be compassionate through experience, guidance, and observing compassion in those around them.
Many teachers like to say that they have a “culture of kindness” or a “culture of caring” in their classrooms. Likewise, cultivating a “culture of compassion” at home is an important fundamental way to instill compassion in your kids.
To learn compassion, kids must see compassion in action. How can you create a “culture of compassion” in your home?
Treat your child with respect.
Most adults expect others – especially children – to act respectfully. It’s a good expectation to have, but does that street go both ways in your home? Treating a child with respect simply means to think of him or her as an individual with wants, needs, and feelings – something parents are very good at anyways!
Say “please” and “thank you” to your children; hug and cuddle them when they are sad; actively listen to them talk about their day; apologize if you’ve made a mistake that affects them; ask for their opinions on decisions at home. Not only do these simple actions show your children that they matter, you are modeling to them how to treat others with respect.
Correct rude and unkind behavior.
Whether your child makes an offhand comment about a stranger, or your child is saying something mean to a friend (including name-calling), it’s okay to point it out and correct that behavior. You can tell your child that their words are unkind, and that’s not how we act toward one another. For younger children especially, ask them how they would feel if their friend treated them as they had just acted, or if someone said something similar to them. Would they feel sad? Hurt? Angry? Let your children know that how they treat others matters greatly.
Recognize kind and compassionate behavior.
Focus on positive reinforcement – when you see or hear your child acting in a compassionate way toward others, or when your child makes kind statements about others, acknowledge it! Point it out, and even tell your child how proud you are to see those kinds of actions and words. Take it a step further, and point out kind behavior in others. When a friend gives you a present, or a family member gives a compliment, mention those kind actions, too.
Take the time to thank others – and not just your child. Express your gratitude for what you and your family have, and acknowledge the part that others have played in your blessings. You can mention your gratitude for the farmer who grew the vegetables on the dinner table, or your gratitude for your child’s enthusiastic teacher. Help your child vocalize what he or she is thankful for.
Teaching compassion can be directed and playful, as well. There are many activities and projects that children can take part in which will help them develop and strengthen their kindness muscles.
The holiday season in particular is a fantastic time to engage in hands-on activities with your child, while you also discuss what it means to be compassionate and why it is important to treat others with kindness.
Volunteer with your child.
Most volunteer opportunities will allow children over the age of 5 or so to participate, depending on the project. By high-school age, there will be a plethora of opportunities available for eager volunteers. With younger children, you can find a simple project to volunteer on, and you can discuss how your actions have a positive impact. With older children and teens, you can involve them more in choosing a meaningful project – what is your child passionate about, and how does that translate to service? Some ideas might be local animal shelters, soup kitchens, or nursing homes.
Involve your child in giving to charity.
Together, you can collect cans for a food drive, gather old clothing for a shelter, or give what you can to the Salvation Army bell ringer. Don’t forget to follow these acts up with a conversation (even a very brief one) about why you give to others, and why your actions make a difference. The holiday season is also a great time for children to pick a few old toys to give away, or to go to a toy store with the sole purpose of buying something new for a toy drive.
Read about it.
Books can be great conversation starters on acting compassionately. Here are some suggestions.
For younger children:
- A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams
- How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
- Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
- Stone Soup (various re-tellings).
For older children:
Download this helpful printable. Working together, help your child brainstorm the ways in which he or she shows compassion day to day. Then ask your child to write and/or draw those ideas in the boxes. Older children may be able to offer ideas right away, while younger children may need specific instances pointed out to them, and labeled as compassion in action.
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