Helping your child learn to feel compassion and empathy for others is one of the most important lessons you can instill in them as a parent. As bullying and cruelty become more prevalent, and children and teens are resorting to extremes to find relief from the torment of their peers, helping your child to understand how important it is to respect the feelings of others can make a very real difference in the world around her. While it’s not always easy to help a child grasp such an abstract concept, there are steps you can take, as a family, to make the concept of being compassionate more understandable.
- Model Compassionate Behavior – Just as your child learns to mimic your mannerisms and speech patterns, she’ll also take most of her cues about how to treat her peers, elders, animals and the environment from you as well. Making a conscious effort to model compassionate, altruistic behavior in everyday life is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that your child also learns to behave in such a manner. When your child sees you treat the world around you with compassion, she will instinctively follow the shining example you’ve set for her.
- Take Opportunities to Talk about Caring for Others – When your child is confronted with images of violence, cruelty or bullying through television, movies and even her everyday interactions with the world, it’s important to take the opportunity to talk about how she thinks the victims of those actions feel and how she might be able to help. With these examples to examine as points of reference, a largely abstract notion can become more concrete and easier to understand. Take the time to discuss empathy and compassion every day, especially when events or images bring the issue to the forefront.
- Volunteer as a Family – Spending time as a family performing volunteer work can give your child not only an up close and personal view of compassion and empathy in action, but also the satisfied feeling that comes with making a positive difference in the world. Making an effort to choose volunteer activities based upon your child’s existing interests, the age-appropriateness of the tasks involved, and her ability to immediately see a perceptible difference due to her actions can help your child understand that helping others is both important and rewarding. Working together as a family can also strengthen bonds, give you an opportunity to continuously model compassionate behavior, create talking points for later discussion, and allow you to monitor what she’s exposed to in the course of her volunteer work.
- Teach Kids to Stand Up to Bullying – While your child should understand that it’s never acceptable to approach a bully in a confrontational or violent manner, and that retaliation isn’t a solution to the problem of bullying, you should also encourage her to make an effort to stand up to school bullies in a compassionate and productive way. Reporting harassment of another child to school authorities, making an effort to befriend children that aren’t easily accepted by their peers, and never engaging in bullying activities are all effective ways of combating the problem without retaliation. It’s also important to explain that standing aside and doing nothing to assist a victim of bullying or laughing at cruel pranks is the same as condoning the treatment her classmate is receiving.
- Donate Outgrown Toys and Clothes – When your child outgrows her toys and clothing while they’re still in serviceable shape, it’s a good idea to get her involved in the sorting and packing process, and then let her accompany you when you go to make a donation. Seeing that the belongings she no longer needs are finding good use in a needy home can instill the importance of charitable giving, and ease any pangs of separation anxiety she feels.
- Practice Random Acts of Kindness – Keeping your eyes open for small acts of unexpected kindness that you and your child can perform together can not only help her understand the concept of altruism, but can also help to make it an everyday practice. Look for ways that you and your child can help whenever you’re out together; in no time, she’ll be spotting potential random acts of kindness herself.
While it’s not always a popular notion with harried parents, allowing your child to keep a pet can provide her with an everyday incentive to be compassionate and caring for a living being that needs her help to survive. Smaller pets, like fish or hamsters, can be just as effective as dogs or cats. Depending on your living situation and schedule constraints, adopting a pet for your child to take responsibility for can be another very effective way of passing along a lesson in compassion.
P.S. This post was proposed to me for publication by Martina Keyhell. I'm therefore publishing it by her invitation and under her permission. See also the link below fore more information: