Passing Compassion Along

This is the second week in a 3-week series on parenting observations. Week one is based on gentle parenting, week two is about parenting with compassion, and week three is about parenting with a disability.

These posts are based on my personal experiences as a parent and are not meant in any way to judge other parenting styles or decisions. I am offering my personal research and conclusions as possible suggestions for others out there, therefore these posts will be as objective as possible. When it comes to parenting: provided the method isn’t abusive, there really isn’t a wrong way to parent your child. Be secure and do what works best for you and your family and ignore outside judgment.

This post was originally published February 2018.

Incorporating compassion towards yourself and your little one will naturally lead to raising a compassionate child, but there are other ways to work compassion into the daily routine. There are a lot of great suggestions out there from various parenting websites. I’ve pulled a list together of my favorite suggestions that I want to incorporate with Jai as he grows up and as reminders of what I can do on a daily basis for myself.

Nota bene: This post will be using the universal “you/second person” pronouns throughout, so while it may not speak to your experience directly, it may apply to someone else you know.

Compassion is Nurture not Nature

For some children, compassion appears to be inherent, but for most of us, it is something that needs to be taught either by adult example or via life lessons. To best ensure a child becomes a compassionate adult, it is important to teach compassion as part of the growing process. Age of the child (or adult) does not matter, it is something that can be trained at any point in life.

Compassion is not fundamental to being human, but the greater compassion (and self-compassion) a person has, the greater their personal success both personally and professionally.  More than self-esteem, teaching compassion will increase a child’s ability to successfully navigate the world. Increased self-esteem is secondary to compassion in most cases, though it follows closely behind.

Therefore, teaching compassion will be helpful in making the world a better place on a macro-level, but on the individual level for your loved one. The world becomes less harsh, not because of rose-colored glasses, but because your little one does not take adversity personally and takes it in stride. When bad things happen, they are viewed as lessons for growth and not personal insults to their being.

How to Incorporate Compassion

From the research I have done on the matter, some of the overarching themes include the importance of demonstration, teaching sincerity and forgiveness for others and oneself. Not every point will be feasible, but it will be up to your discretion.

In no particular order, this is a list I’ve compiled that highlights teaching compassion to a little one.

  1. Demonstrate empathy toward others. It may be tempting to bad mouth a stranger who cut you off while driving, but consider talking through various scenarios that might have brought that driver to this junction: rushing to a loved one, hurt by an argument earlier in the day, or upset at general mistreatment in life. Instead of saying something bad about them, demonstrate a loving kindness by not commenting at all or understanding that at the moment they need to be in front of you. This isn’t meant to demonstrate being taken advantage of, but knowing when to let something go.
  2. Respect all things, part I. If it is possible, adopt a companion animal to teach your child compassion for another living being. If adopting a companion animal is impossible, consider “adopting” a wild animal through a rehabilitation program. Teach them about endangered species and the importance of preservation as well.
  3. Respect all things, part II. Not just animate objects, but inanimate objects too. When your child is at a friend’s house or in the park, make sure they respect an object another child is playing with. Teach them to respect your property and other’s property (while granting them access to items built for destruction). Have them sincerely apologize if they were too rough and teach them the importance of replacing an object if it comes down to it.
  4. Do not allow for bullying. It’s hard to stop your child from being bullied, but you can control if your child is the bully. Make it a teachable moment if they push, yell, or do something to emotionally or physically hurt another child. Playground dominance games are part of growing up, but halting any maladaptive behavior towards others and reframing it with the question: “how does it feel when it happens to you?” will go a long way to teach compassion.
  5. Monitor heroes and humanize them. You can’t, and shouldn’t, control everything your child consumes in the media. Make sure they are modeling their behaviors on people who are compassionate and teach them about how they are humans as well. Understanding that heroes aren’t perfect and may make mistakes helps lessen the blow if they “fall” but also reminds your child that while the hero might do something your child does not like, there may be redeeming qualities.
  6. Volunteer. Find an age-appropriate volunteering opportunity that would interest your child and make it a regular occurrence. Don’t force the matter: there may be days where they don’t want to go and you don’t want it to be a drudgery.
  7. Raise their emotional intelligence. Teach your children new words for feelings to help increase their emotional vocabulary. When they are ready, teach different words for “sad,” so when they are feeling sad they might be able to use a more nuanced term such as melancholy to fit their mood. “Anger” may actually be frustration and so on.  With more nuanced words to describe their feelings, the easier it will be to express them so you provide more specialized care.
  8. Address and embrace the differences. Your child will notice someone who is different from them at some point and it’s best to get ahead of the situation before it gets out of control. If they are staring, speak with them about why they might be staring and do so in a respectful and matter-of-fact manner. Answer questions to the best of your ability and model respectful behavior towards the person if possible. This is a great resource for tips on how to respectfully address such scenarios.
  9. Teach sincere compliments and praise. Just as you appreciate being told “good job,” so will your child. Find a moment to call out times where you were grateful for a particular behavior or action and compliment your child on it. Guide them to sincerely think of moments that apply to others that they want to compliment or praise.
  10. Teach gratefulness. Sit with your child and work through why they might appreciate a gift and help them write a note of gratitude towards the giver. Don’t force general “thank you’s” either, teach your child to be appreciative and show that appreciation sincerely. This can be in small acts of kindness from others as well not just in gifts.
  11. Demonstrate kindness. If you are able to show kindness to a stranger in front of your child it will go a long way to teach kindness and compassion. When you get a moment, speak with your child about the importance of kindness in daily life no matter how small it may seem.
  12. Consistency. As you are teaching your child how to be compassionate, be consistent in your compassion towards others. If you don’t demonstrate compassion but expect it from your child, then it won’t work in the long term. When you have moments where your personal compassion breaks down, sit with your child and explain what happened and tell them that having difficult moments is okay and there’s no shame in being human.
  13. Moderation. When teaching compassion do not go overboard. You don’t want to force it on your child because some days won’t provide an opportunity to teach compassion. Just allow the lessons to come naturally and make sure your child is receptive. They may not want to hear it for the day and that’s okay. There’s always tomorrow.

This is not a complete list and as things come up, the list will either grow or shrink. What are some tools that you use to teach compassion for your little ones? Please comment below with your suggestions and stories below.

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Featured Photo Credit: Michelle Melton

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