As an educator, it is my opinion that one of the reasons for the rise in bullying behavior in children is a lack of compassion. Many of the children I see do not show concern for the suffering of others. Empathy and compassion are traits that need to be fostered as children grow older. While true empathy is hard for young children, compassion is a behavior that is fairly simple to support. In a world of instant gratification and selfies, we as adults need to focus more on fostering this in our children. Below are 10 simple ways to teach your child compassion.
1. Don’t kill that bug.
While most of us do not want bugs in our homes and our first inclination may be to step on an intruder, it is important that children learn respect for life. To a young child killing a bug just for being in your space sends a message that it’s okay to hurt beings we don’t like. An easy alternative is to place a cup over the bug, slide a piece of paper underneath and release it outside. Or, if all else fails, wait until your child is not around. It is important to teach children respect for all living things.
2. Take care of pets.
Allow your child to help take care of pets in whatever way they are able based on their age. Even calling your cat or dog to mealtimes helps instill caring for others. It also teaches them to be dedicated to someone other than themselves.
3. Practice kindness.
Small acts of kindness show children that it is important to be nice and to think of others. Hold a door open for someone. Pick up something that someone dropped. Help someone get across the street. Demonstrate that it costs nothing to just be kind and make kindness a habit.
4. Thank people.
Part of compassion is appreciating others. Make sure that your child sees you acknowledging that. This is especially important for people in service professions. These are often thankless jobs and, in many cases, any problem you’re experiencing with service is not the fault of the person directly serving you. Always say “thank you” to people.
Just as important as thanking someone is acknowledging when you are wrong and making amends. Apologizing when you have made a mistake shows children that you care about making things right with the other person and that you are concerned about how others feel. This is especially important when the person you have wronged is your child.
6. Acknowledge those who are less fortunate.
In the world today we see multiple examples of the suffering of others on a daily basis. When you’re walking or in the car with your child talk to them about the homeless person you see or the rundown house. Discuss how hard it must be to not have enough to be able to take care of yourself or your family. Be careful not to teach pity; there’s a difference between feeling sorry for someone and feeling concern for them, but talk about why they think that person might be homeless or how you could do something to make a difference.
7. Talk about it.
Children, now more than ever, have constant exposure to television and the internet. Watch TV or videos with your child and point out when someone needs compassion and when someone is showing it. Children question everything. Use this as a chance to explain the moments in the media that are deserving of concern and love.
8. Teach them to love the lonely ones.
Instill in your child the importance of including people. Let your child see you reach out to people who seem lonely or talk to the person standing alone in a crowded room. Ask your child about kids at school who eat or sit alone and help them learn ways to approach and include those children.
9. Read books.
There is an abundance of children’s literature that demonstrates compassion. Examples include The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, Wonder by R.J. Palacio or The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, just to name a few. Read with your child and discuss the message in the book.
Demonstrate compassion by helping others through volunteering or donations. Many volunteer opportunities are tasks in which your child can join you. If time isn’t something you have to give, consider making a donation. Have your child help you put together hygiene baskets for a homeless shelter or gather requested supplies from an animal shelter’s list of needs and let them accompany you on the delivery.