Compassion is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. We recognize it when we see it, but when, how and from whom do children learn compassion? What can we do as parents to be sure our kids understand the importance of treating others with kindness?
We can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the news without hearing about the ever-present problem of bullying, which seems symptomatic of a much larger problem — too few children are learning what it means to be compassionate.
We know it's our job as parents to teach our children what it means to be compassionate and empathetic. But when and how do we start?
Jim Taylor, Ph.D., explains how important it is to start teaching our children compassion from a very young age:
“You must nurture the ability to care about others in their early years. If the value of compassion isn't evident in your daily lives, your children are less likely to develop compassion and will ultimately become emotionally and socially disconnected from the larger world in which they live. Only when children are immersed in a compassionate world will they come to see the value of compassion and embrace it as their own.”
Add compassion to your family’s list of key values and talk about it often. Explain to your children why it’s important to treat others with compassion. Pointing it out when you witness it and asking them to do the same will help them to recognize compassion when they see it.
Show your compassion -- toward your child and toward others. They will then make the connection between what it feels like to be treated with compassion and how it makes others feel.
Offer positive reinforcement when you see your children showing compassion. Just as it’s important to point out when they are unkind and hurtful, it’s important to offer reinforcement when they are showing kindness and compassion.
Children are born with an innate kindness. It's our job to nurture that through talking with them, acting as role models and praising them along the way.
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