Since my story was published on The Mighty, I received a few emails asking for advice about fostering compassion in children. Is compassion something that can be learned or are some individuals naturally more compassionate? That’s a great question and one that I have pondered often.
It’s true that some of my children are naturally more compassionate and they actively seek opportunities to include a person who is different. Also, our family is comprised of people of different ethnicities so my children tend to not use skin color as a qualifier for friendships. But true compassion goes beyond that, it is true concern for another person’s misfortune.
How do we help our children to have genuine concern and compassion?
The secret to raising compassionate children is this: allow them to experience hard things. Allow their hearts to feel sadness towards others around the world who do not have what they have (not talking about iPods but food, clothing and shelter). Allow them to experience disappointment instead of cushioning every blow. And allow them to be in a position to serve others. The way to compassion is through feeling unpleasant things and then moving to action.
Parenting with the goal of making a childhood as magical as possible without any sadness will rarely work. This world has kindness and wonder and beauty. It also has sadness and tragedy. Our children will experience both no matter how much we shelter them or orchestrate their circumstances to point toward happiness. Allow them to feel both in age appropriate ways and allow them to be part of the solution by serving.
If you need action steps or ideas for your family, here are just a few ways to start:
1. Sponsor a child in a developing country and learn together about the struggles in his/her part of the world.
2. Don’t be afraid to talk about hard topics such as homelessness or hunger, your children would rather hear it from you than the media.
3. Pray for people and pray for situations as they happen around the world. Show your children how powerful their prayers can be.
4. Have natural, every day interactions with people who are differently abled or from different ethnicities.
5. Find ways to serve others. Nothing is more beautiful than when my children understand that they can help another person in a tangible way.