Raising Compassionate and Empathetic Children
If you are like me, raising children who are compassionate and empathetic toward others is more important than impressive grades, developing a talent or being an all-star on the ball team. Here are some things I try to do with my children:
Encourage and Model Inclusion– Raise includers by encouraging your child to make sure no one is left out. Often being exclusive is not intentional. We all seek out the familiar, those we have relationships with, and those who have similar interests and experiences. Like most everything with parenting, it starts with us. Being willing to befriend someone who is different. Differences add variety to life and make it more interesting. It takes a lot of work to invest in new relationships but model this in your own life and your children will notice. Point out a child who is playing alone and suggest to your child that he/she introduce themselves.
With parties, if you are not able to invite the whole group explain why to your child and tell them not to talk about the party in front of those who were not invited. As a former kindergarten teacher, I can tell you there were more tears shed over birthday parties than anything else. “I’m not inviting you to my birthday party,” was the ultimate weapon.
Teach Gratitude– This also starts with modeling. Thank others for what they do for you and encourage your child to do the same. At dinner or before bed, have every member of the family name out something they are thankful for. Teach your child to write thank you notes. As soon as my oldest son learned to write, the first thing we did was write thank you notes. At first, it was just signing his name to a thank you note I wrote. At age 4, he is slowly learning how to write –or draw– them himself.
Let Your Children See Your Imperfections– We are all human and fall short. Our children will learn how to handle their imperfections from us, so apologize to and in front of them. If I encourage my son to be patient when his brother knocks over his tower but then turn around and get upset at my husband for making a mess in the kitchen, I might be sending my children a mixed message. When this happens, I try to apologize in front of them –or to them if this situation warrants it.
Encourage and Expect Your Children to Help Around the House– At around 18 months, even babies start wanting to help. It’s tempting to stop them and do it ourselves because, honestly, it’s going to create more of a mess to let them “help.” But there is a lot of learning that will take place among the messes. It starts with releasing control on our part. Believe me this is not easy. We’ve ended up with pizza sauce on our wall, giant messes all over the floor, dirt scattered across the patio while trying to plant flowers, and clothes folded backwards. It’s worth it though.
As he gets older, I expect that chores might not be so fun and it will turn into requiring and expecting his help. It’s important that children see what is involved in running a household and learn that their contributions are important, valued and needed.
Volunteer as a Family and Help Those in Need– It’s important that we teach our children to get involved in something bigger than themselves. I wrote a separate blog post about this topic: Make Giving and Serving an Integral Part of Your Home.
Celebrate Differences– This goes along with being inclusive. God created us with many different types of bodies, personalities, and interests. When we embrace our differences, life can have variety and will be more exciting. We often judge what we don’t understand, so get to know many different types of people. When I’ve been intentional about trying to get to know someone who is very different than me, I’ve always learned something new and I appreciate a different perspective. With my kids, I read stories about cultures from the other side of the globe and I try to be intentional about getting outside our bubble and exposing them to people of varying backgrounds and financial status.
Develop Emotional Intelligence– Help your child understand and process their feelings by giving them the words and tools they need. When we are able to understand our own feelings, we can then have compassion toward another person. I also try to teach my child to read other people’s body language “He’s backing up. That means he doesn’t like you in his face.” Awareness creates compassion.
Show Compassion to Them and to Yourself– Give your children plenty of grace and teach them compassion by first being compassionate with them. Be quick to forgive and move on. I’m learning that this starts with being compassionate and gentle with myself because we see our children as an extension of ourselves.
Walk the Talk– Most importantly, if I haven’t said it enough, lead by example and be the type of person you hope your child will grow up to be. As I write this, I’m humbled as I realize how far I fall short. I’m learning to not be so hard on myself because I want my children to compassionate with themselves as well.