How To Raise a Compassionate Child: 5 Strategies for Parents
“We are responsible for the outcome of our children”. Setting aside genetic influences, much of how a child grows up is influenced by the teachings of their parents. In a sense, it is the responsibility of a parent to contribute- as much as they can- to their child’s development. One such teaching of great importance to the development of a child is developing compassion.
What is Compassion?
Compassion is feeling concern for the misfortune of others. It is a feeling we get when we witness the suffering of others and feel the need to remove some of that suffering. Different from empathy, compassion brings about a desire to lend a hand.
From an evolutionary perspective, compassion helps us to bond. When we feel compassion, we secrete oxytocin (a bonding hormone) while parts of the brain linked to empathy and caregiving lights up. This, in turn, encourages us to be concerned for and care for others.
3 Types of Compassion
There are three ways we can engage in compassion:
1. Receive compassion
Receiving compassion is allowing yourself to be cared for deeply by others. While we can often feel uncomfortable receiving kindness—perhaps because we feel indebted in some way—receiving compassion allows us to bond with others.
Self-kindness entails offering yourself acknowledgement, understanding and kindness in the face of personal hardship in a non-judgmental way. Taking care of yourself allows you to be more able to care for others.
3. Extend compassion
Extending compassion refers to being caring, empathic and loving to others. This could be within your family or even extending it to people in your neighbourhood. Being compassionate to those around you can make your environment meaningful and positive.
Compassion in Children According to Psychology
In the first year of life, children develop a sense of empathy—which is important for engaging in compassionate behaviour. They develop empathy by witnessing and mimicking emotions. A child whose parent is able to portray empathy through expression is more likely to learn compassion.
In the second and third year, children are more inclined to want to help their parents. This is the prime opportunity for parents to reinforce this positive, compassionate behaviour through praise and acknowledgement. Through this, a child will be able to understand the influence helpful behaviour has on those around them.
In the following years, children begin to develop language skills and gain more awareness about how others also have feelings. Developing their language skills means having access to a wider range of vocabulary to articulate compassion and to have it explained to them better.
As years continue to pass, compassion broadens and expands through to understanding other people's lives and life situations. This is the point at which one can truly expand on the issues in the world and to further generate compassion for humanity as a whole.
How Does a Compassionate Child Look Like
A compassionate child is one who:
Why Is Being Compassionate Important?
Compassion facilitates developing various other life skills important for childhood development: encouraging tolerance and acceptance of themselves and others; a better understanding of others; stronger relationships with others; more social harmony.
Compassion is important to a child’s ability to have lasting personal relationships. It is central to connecting to others. It fosters better communication, understanding and cooperation.
Learning compassion helps children to better understand others and become adults who are a contribution to a positive and caring society. By learning how to understand how they—and others—are feeling, they will be able to make informed decisions that will influence how they act and behave in society.
A compassionate child is also one who grows up to become a compassionate adult. A better understanding of compassion brings about self-reassured and kind adults.
By learning about compassion, children will also learn how to be kind to themselves- on top of to others.
5 Ways to Raise Compassionate and Kind Children
Teaching compassion starts at birth. Children develop empathy throughout their development. Developing empathy is important to developing compassion. In addition, children are sensitive to parental facial and bodily cues. Compassion is taught in this way. Children with parents who show compassionate expressions and behaviour are likely to react to and internalise this behaviour. Furthermore, children respond well to praise. Children who are reinforced positively for good behaviour, while emphasising the compassionate act, are more likely to continue this behaviour. Here are some ways to teach your children compassion:
1. Be a role model
Be kind, yourself. Show empathy and understanding. This can be done in various ways. One such way is with acts of service, such as helping a neighbour who is ill.
2. Be compassionate towards your children
If your child makes a mistake or reacts negatively, approach them with kindness and understanding. Take the time to listen empathically and use age appropriate reasoning to walk them through the situation. Instead of meeting them with punishment for bad behaviour, understand why they did what they did and how they came to do it that way.
In addition, make sure to praise them when they do something compassionate or kind. This will reinforce that behaviour more.
3. Highlight the difference between compassion and non-compassion
We are all aware of those situations where children ask hard questions or make statements that could be taken as insensitive to an adult, such as: “why does he look like that?”. Make sure not to be harsh and punitive. Take the time to listen empathically and talk through their questions. Use these moments as learning opportunities to highlight how that sentence may be offensive and how to approach things differently the next time.
In addition, if your child engages in compassionate behaviour with/around you, highlight this moment. For example: “That was very nice of you to hug your friend who was crying. You showed her how much you cared by noticing she was sad”.
4. Explain any behaviour you expect from them
If you hear your child talking negatively about someone else, you can encourage them to “put themselves in the shoes of the other person”. In doing so, they are encouraged to reflect on the other person's situation and develop an understanding of others. They also learn that others have different perspectives and reasons for doing things.
5. Be patient
Children develop empathy differently at different age groups—based on their development—therefore keep calm and be patient. At times it will be difficult for your child to fully grasp the concept of compassion in a certain scenario. That’s okay. Just take your time explaining how that situation could be approached in a compassionate way.
Children are extremely impressionable. Based on what we have seen in the world: with the often hurtful and negative content in the media, children are very much exposed to a lot of negative input. It is our responsibility, as parents, to provide valuable teaching moments when it comes to compassion and kindness. This is important for adding to a society of loving and kind people.
This is not an easy feat. It is hard work, but it is worth it. Modelling acceptance and kindness creates a safe environment for your child to grow up in. It is not only helpful for your child, but also for yourself.
HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS.