The vast majority of people will agree that compassion is important. It’s also an abstract. With that in mind, is it possible to teach your a child a particular feeling?
While you can’t control what happens in your kid’s head, you can emphasize qualities that are part of a compassionate society. In this article, here are three tips parents can use to raise compassionate children.
The Importance of Compassion
Naturally, most people feel that compassion for compassion’s sake is valuable. Putting that aside, there are also many studies that make a strong association between high levels of compassion, and better outcomes for children.
Compassionate children are less likely to experience juvenile delinquency. They are more likely to do well in school, and generally experience high instances of success as they grow up. In terms of human development, compassion is an important asset that all children should have.
Tip 1: Look for Real-World Examples
Compassion requires context. For this, your children will need examples from both sides of the spectrum. True compassion will require them to:
Understand that There are Sad/Bad Things in the World
If world was more happy and bright like Candyland, there wouldn’t be a need to be compassionate in the first place. Parents naturally want to isolate their children from bad news. There is an extent to which doing so is necessary and appropriate.
However, you should be mindful not to give your kids a false impression of the world. Instead of sheltering them from bad or sad news, try to expose it to them in a way that is palatable and thought-provoking.
Children’s literature is full of rich examples. From the struggles of refugees to homelessness, there are texts on every topic that can help your children develop their compassion.
After you introduce a problem to a child, be sure to gauge their feelings, and ask them questions about what they are thinking. Children often like to marinate on ideas, so you may find that following up with them hours, or even days later is the best way to find out how something has influenced them.
The goal is certainly never to frighten a child, or to make them feel like the world is a bad place. In fact, this is why the next step is so important.
Make Sure They Understand that Problems Have Solutions
The point of the lesson is to teach your kids compassion, so now is your chance to show them why compassion matters in the first place. When you introduce an issue to your child, follow it up with a solution.
“Segregation was very sad. But people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King made a difference.” Or, “It’s terrible that people don’t have food. That is why we make donations to the food bank.”
Which leads us to another point…
You Should Be One of the Examples
Reading about the power of compassion in books is great, but when it’s not backed up with concrete, real-world examples, the impact of the lessons may be lost. Try to model compassion in your own behavior, and look for ways to explain your decisions to your child in terms they can understand.
If you donate to a charity, tell them why you picked it and what your money is accomplishing. If you volunteer somewhere, explain where, why, and what you do. If there are opportunities for them to come with you, it helps make your lesson all the better.
Tip 2: Enforce Kindness
Naturally, you can’t really monitor compassion. It’s an abstract that happens internally. You can monitor compassionate behavior. When your child does things that are kind and compassionate, reward it.
Aren’t rewards counterintuitive to compassion?
Adults (ideally) do not display compassionate behavior in anticipation of being rewarded for it. Children who are still developing their behavioral traits are different. They will respond strongly to incentives, and internalize that behaviors that are rewarded should be repeated.
You don’t have to buy them something every time they make grandma a get-well-soon card. Rewards can come in the form of small treats, like a sweet, or even simple praise. The idea isn’t to shower them with gifts, it is to train their brain to make a positive association with kindness.
To that end, you can also find success by “rewarding” compassion in others. This largely goes along with our first point: if you witness compassion in the world, point it out to your child, and thank the person responsible. Once again, the idea is simply to create a strong positive association.
On the reverse side, you should also be sure to nip behaviors that aren’t compassionate in the bud. Most parents already make a point of doing this. When it comes to emphasizing compassionate behavior, however, you may wish to think further on what actions are or are not considered acceptable.
When you see your child behave in a way that is contrary to what you are trying to encourage, talk with them about it in the context of compassion.
“Is it appropriate to throw a fit about dinner when many people have no food at all?”
“Should we be rude in public when we never know what sort of day other people are having?”
Simply by developing an association between your child’s behavior, and the greater world, you increase the odds that they will make choices compassionately.
Tip 3: Think About Their External Influences
Finally, are there any influences in their life that are contradicting to the messages you are trying to teach? For example, do the books your kids read, the shows and films they watch, and the games they play emphasize compassion?
The research on how big of an influence media has on children has been somewhat mixed. However, it remains true that getting mixed messages can be confusing for children. If you say “Kindness matters,” and the video games they play say “Pedestrians are just speed bumps” it may be time to either:
- Exert more control over the media your kids are experiencing, or…
- Have conversations about it. How does this contradict compassionate behavior? How do you feel about that?
Even if violent video games and television won’t turn your kids into monsters, they can undercut the lessons you are trying to teach. Context, conversations, and supervision can make a big difference.
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