Raising Children with Compassion

Jeremy Sharp, PhD Parenting Leave a Comment

There are three key principles of compassion: “I share this world with others,” “I feel for other people and they feel for me,” and “I am capable of helping others.” It is understandable for parents to want to see their child act with empathy and kindness, but fostering compassion requires a proactive approach from parents. Here are five tips for raising and encouraging compassionate children: 

Model positive action live compassionately 

Children pay close attention to their parents’ behaviors and listen intently to their parent’s words. When you help your neighbor with household chores, give generously to your community, or ask about your friend’s day, your children will take notice. These actions can impact the way your child interacts with the world and set them up with a more compassionate approach to life.

Talk to your children about empathy

Often, instilling compassion in your child can be as simple as communicating values.

Teach them what having compassion means in their family. When you see someone acting with kindness or compassion (or a lack thereof), point it out to them and ask your child how they think the actions of others might affect the people around them. This can help your child grow a wider sense of community. Remember that empathy is a skill, and that opening your child up to the world of varying approaches to compassion can greatly expand their own skillset. 

This is not a one-time discussion with your child, rather you should use this strategy as an on-going dialogue that you have throughout their childhood that will inform and guide them to a more compassionate adulthood.

Act with respect toward your child

They may not seem as busy as you, but your child values their time as much as you do. It is valuable for your child to treat their time and energy with the same respect you would toward any adult. This can be as easy as warning your child when its time to pick up and leave what they are doing or thanking them when they take time to be helpful. Being respectful should also coincide with regard to your child’s intelligence and autonomy, you can demonstrate this by justifying your reasoning when you are being punitive with your child, and taking into account that their punishment for misbehavior is not just effective but also fair and reasonable.

Respond to misbehavior or rudeness

To develop compassion, it is necessary for your child to understand the effect of rudeness, but also how to respond to it. If a stranger behaves an inconsiderate to you and does not acknowledge or apologize for their behavior, you can take a step back and help your child understand how that makes you or how it would make them feel if they were in the same situation. It can also be helpful to speak with compassion when point out to your child why someone may be behaving rudely. Communicating small messages like, “That person must be having a really bad day to treat people like that” can have a major impact on your child’s outlook by teaching them to both empathize with others even when they behave poorly and also that rudeness should be responded to with compassion. 

It is not only important to point out the uncompassionate behavior of others, but also of your child and even yourself. If you or your child act with disregard for others, reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes. Communicate with them about what made them or you lose compassion in that moment. 

Be Patient!

Always remember, compassion is a skill to be honed. Everyone can have lapses in their own kindness and nurturing it in others may not always be a straightforward process. Having compassion and encouraging it in others is its own reward, instilling compassion in your child will promise them a more meaningful and joyful life.     

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