Are you a compassionate person? Have you translated those ideals to your children?
As a mother, I’m often tempted to take on the “mama bear” role. My kids both have food allergies, which makes them “different” from other kids. The compassion that others have shown us (or not shown us, as is sometimes the case) is amazing.
Seeing is Believing
I’ve been fortunate to be able to see the good in people. Parents at my son’s preschool showed their overwhelming compassion for my child. Before sending in snacks or holiday treats, they would send recipes home with me to check that they didn’t contain any allergens. They went out of their way to read labels and find new, fun snacks to send for birthday parties. They cared.
Since sending my son to elementary school, I’ve come across several parents who would rather sacrifice the life of my child for the comfort of their own (and then they post scathing comments online about smearing peanut proteins around the school so that my child builds up a tolerance – he won’t). Can your child live without a peanut butter sandwich for one meal to show compassion for his friend?
Monkey See, Monkey Do
What are you teaching your children about compassion? Are you modeling compassion in your own life?
Children are little sponges. They learn when we want them to learn, like in the school setting, but they also learn when we least expect it.
Children love to mimic their parents. My five-year-old learned to write his name at school, but he learned to spit (he practiced by spitting his apple juice in my living room, no less), by watching the farmer spit as he worked in the field. When you think your children aren’t watching, trust me, they are!
I recently asked how you were doing (and then showed you ways to feel better so you could answer honestly). Have you taken the time to ask others how they’re doing (and meant it)? Are you showing compassion to others? More importantly, have your kids seen you do this?
A Teachable Lesson
Compassion is a hard lesson to teach. Most young children learn by seeing and doing tangible things. Compassion, on the other hand, is an abstract idea, which is difficult for children to understand.
To teach children about compassion, try leading by example. For example, talking to your child about giving money or donating to less fortunate people may not be enough. Instead, if they see you donating to charity, or, better yet, volunteering at a soup kitchen, they may begin to understand the true meaning of compassion.
You can show your children how to be compassionate in everyday situations like grocery shopping. As you’re grocery shopping, stop to help an elderly man push his cart to the cart corral. Help a shorter person reach an item from the top shelf. Teach your children to notice people who are struggling. Is there someone whom they could help?
Modeling a behavior is a two-way street, though. Remember when my son learned to spit (and modeled it in the living room)? If your children see you grumbling about how ridiculous it is that other children can’t eat peanut butter, they won’t feel compassion for their friends who have food allergies. If you’re rushing through the grocery store, yelling at the elderly to move out of the aisle, the chances are good that your children will not learn to have compassion (or patience) for others.
Now and Forever
Feeling compassion for others is a lifelong process. It can be demonstrated on a small or large-scale throughout everyday life.
We need to teach our children to be compassionate, but it’s important for us to model it, as well. Start by noticing (and asking) how others are feeling. Are they having a bad day? Is there something that you could do to help?
Sometimes compassion doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be as small as packing a peanut-free lunch so that your child can sit next to his friend at the lunch table.