Compassion develops over time as children grow. We know from research that the desire to help and comfort others comes naturally to us. Even two-year olds will offer a blankie or pacifier to a crying playmate. They may not understand why their friend is crying, but they want to help them feel better. By age four, children can understand when they’ve hurt someone, and can discuss what it means to be kind. Compassion is our ability to step into the shoes of another person; to care for them without judgment. It can involve putting someone else’s needs above your own. Your children are continually developing their sense of compassion and ability to respond to others with empathy and understanding. They are building their ability to be helpful not hurtful.
The following suggestions can help us encourage compassion in our children.
- Model compassion. By kissing your little one’s hurt finger, or listening without judgment to your child telling you about their awful day, you are giving them the base from which to reach out to others.
- Know and believe your child is capable of being kind. Raising children can be tough but make sure that you notice the times that your child is kind or helpful.
- Coach your child to pay attention to people’s facial expressions and body language. This is the first step in understanding another person’s perspective.
- Read with your child. Pause and ask questions about what the characters in the book might be feeling or thinking.
- Understand your child’s perceptions of differences in others. Young children notice differences in people, just as they do in crayon colors or animals. If they comment inappropriately, use curiosity questions to clarify, and then correct any misunderstanding respectfully.
- When your child experiences rudeness, share a perspective that might invite empathy. “Wow, that clerk must be having a really bad day. What do you think?”
- Pay attention to and comment on kindness or compassion, whenever you notice it – in real life, on TV, in the movies and in books.