How to Raise a Compassionate Kid
Each month at National Heritage Academies, we emphasize a moral focus throughout our curriculum. We incorporate the theme throughout class discussion, and do our best to personally recognize when a student exemplifies the quality in action. April’s focus is Compassion.
The term compassion is interchangeable with care, empathy and kindness - it’s a tenderness toward someone else’s pain or plight. There’s just something about witnessing an act of compassion that resonates with us on a deep, human level. It’s why images like “Umbrella Dad” or the recent story of an Apple employee's kindness toward a little boy with Autism go viral. Demonstrating compassion can bring a certain meaning and richness to life.
Children are born with a capacity for compassion. Sure, temperament plays a role in how tuned-in they are to the feelings of others, but the natural ability is there. The tricky part is that their empathy often has to compete with many other developmental forces, impulses toward pushing boundaries and their limited range of ability to see beyond their own needs first. The good news is there are lots of ways you can help your child understand the importance of compassion - and also demonstrate it. Here are six ways you can raise a more compassionate kid:
- Capitalize on teaching moments. Toddlers and elementary school children love new babies, but sometimes they don’t know their own strength! Show them how to be gentle and explain the differences between being rough and gentle. You can also promote sweetness by taking the time to explain how good it makes someone feel when you make eye contact and smile, regardless of the way the other person looks.
- Practice “gentle but firm.” Compassion demonstrates respect - so children should not be allowed to speak harshly to others, including individuals in authority. A gentle but firm response holds your child accountable for the name calling or outburst, without compromising the love they feel from you.
- Set a good example. Parents who say “I’m sorry” and take responsibility when they have not acted respectfully toward their child are not weak. Owning up when you’ve been out of line communicates respect and reaches your child how to apologize as well. Or perhaps you’re making a meal for a family who has recently lost a loved one. Share why you’re doing it and help your child to understand how a gesture of compassion can go a long way.
- Praise kindness. When you catch your child sharing or hear them say something kind to a friend - make sure you do the same. Naming their good behavior, “what a good friend you are!” helps them to feel seen and encouraged to practice even more kindness.
- Monitor what they watch and hear. Obviously you can’t be everywhere your child is, but at home you can control what media they digest. Like sponges, they soak up what’s all around. Violence, mean language or excessive sarcasm should be turned off. On a larger scale, your child is certain to hear about significant news events or situations of injustice in the world. These are great opportunities to enter into conversation about the difference between caring and uncaring acts.
- Help them see the bigger picture. Because kids are naturally consumed with their own needs, they require adults to help them see situations from a broader perspective. For instance, they may not think twice about dropping trash on the ground or quitting a sports team, but you can help them see how their actions have a ripple effect. You can also help them see the suffering of others by exposing them to need. Teach kids that compassion is a way to give their time, energy and attention to someone else. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture to make a lasting impact.