7 Tips for Raising Compassionate Kids
To build a better world, we need more than a reduction in anger. We need active empathy, understanding, and compassion for all fellow creatures.
The best time to develop any positive quality is as young as possible. If you want your children to grow up adding to the world’s compassion bank:
1. Show Compassion to Them on a Daily Basis
It should go without saying, but if you snap at your children, come down hard on their mistakes, or take a "don’t bother me" attitude—no amount of lecturing on compassion will keep them from doing as you do. Make it a rule to be patient, kind, and non-demanding. (If you have real trouble here, examine your rest, eating, and work habits for anything that might be elevating your stress—and if that doesn’t help, talk to a therapist.)
2. Set an Example with the Rest of the World
Even if compassion is a way of life within your family, how you treat those outside influences children’s attitudes toward the world. Make it a point to shrug off inconsiderate drivers, smile at service people, and answer the inconveniently ringing phone cheerfully (or ignore it without comment and check your messages later).
3. Talk about Your Day in Positive Terms
Many people, unimpeachable in face-to-face politeness, feed their intimates an endless litany against "impossible" coworkers, "obnoxious" service people, and "this whole rotten world." Fill your at-home conversation with more pleasant incidents, believe that "good people" are the rule—and your children will learn to expect the best of others.
4. Share Compassionate Stories
Choose stories that speak well of others, not only when recounting recent personal experiences, but when reminiscing about your family history, reading books to your children, or watching television as a household. It may take extra effort to locate fictional stories, let alone news reports, that star positive examples of compassionate people—but it’s well worth it.
5. Actively Teach Empathy
If a child comes home furious at someone else, it’s not a good time to talk about the other party’s viewpoint; just let the child cry on your shoulder and assure him you understand his feelings. After he calms down enough to be objective, you can ask questions to nurture the habit of empathizing with annoying people:
- "Can you think why she might have acted like that?"
- "Could she be unhappy about something else?"
- "What could you do besides hate her for it?"
Not "sentimental" in the maudlin sense, but in the sense of being unafraid to actively express love, caring, and devotion.
- Hug your kids regularly and say out loud, "I love you."
- Share stories of your childhood.
- Have a family tradition for every holiday or special occasion.
7. Help Others as a Family
Participate together in serving others, and I don’t mean just dropping a charitable donation in a public box. Serve meals at a soup kitchen; help repair a hurricane-flooded house; or at least take your donations directly to the end users—meet the people your actions are benefitting. Ultimately, compassion means seeing a human face on the person receiving it.