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It was an ordinary parent teacher conference where we discussed my son’s abilities and lamented over his handwriting. We were nearly done, when his teacher asked me if he was naturally a compassionate child or if we had done something special to foster that side of him.
“He always gravitates to help another student or says an encouraging word at the right time”. Well, this was not something we usually didn’t discuss in conferences but I was overjoyed about this observation over anything else shared that evening.
I began to discuss this topic with friends who have multiple children like I do. Why are some children more compassionate than others? Is it a learned behavior or a trait that you either have or don’t?
As we tossed around ideas about compassion and fostering it in our children, some common themes began to rise up. Yes, we could see that some of our children are naturally more compassionate, just as some are more outgoing or reserved or determined. At the same time, we had found ways to bring out compassion in our children that may not show it to the world as easily.
1. Be a compassionate example. Take your child with you, when you deliver a meal to a new mom. Have them help mail a card to someone who is struggling and explain why that might make a difference. Don’t just drop a dollar in a red bucket, let your child know who this helps and how. Our little ones are always watching us and learning why we do what we do.
2. Sponsor a child in another country. Talk about why this child might need help, how their life is different and how it is the same. Make this experience personal so they can look at a person in another country and find similarities. When disasters strike around the world, show them how to make a difference with small acts of kindness.
3. Let them fail, a little. This one is hard for parents to do, but don’t finish their homework or don’t blame a lost soccer game about an unfair referee. Allow your child to feel some disappointment and talk through those feelings. Chances are, the next time they win, they will understand how the other team may feel. Nothing makes me more proud than my son shaking another boy’s hand and telling them “good game”.
4. Include people of different backgrounds, races and abilities into your everyday life. There is no better way to break down barriers between people than genuine friendships. My youngest daughter uses a wheelchair, and as a result my other children don’t shy away from children who have disabilities. Your children will have a richer life when they get to know people different from themselves and it’s true for us parents too.
Raising compassionate children begins with compassionate parents. I find that the more I focus on compassion with my children, the more compassionate I become.
Jenni is a mother of five, married for 20 years to her high school sweetheart, Eric. Her children range in age from preschool to high school by birth and adoption. Jenni is an advocate for children with special needs and is passionate about making our world an inclusive place for all. When she is not driving her minivan to various activities and appointments, she can be found blogging at Joyful Journey Mom.