Sunday, 26 July 2015

Instilling Compassion & Empathy in Younger Children

teaching compassion
When I was pregnant with my first child I remember dreaming about what character traits I would want her to have. Compassion was the first thing that came to mind. The world would be a much better place if everyone had even an ounce more compassion inside of them.  How can we instill compassion and empathy in our children? Cognitively, empathy takes time to develop. However, there are ways to start planting the seeds of compassion at a young age. My daughter is only 3 and it is amazing to see how empathetic and compassionate she is becoming with each passing day.

Learning About Emotions
Our post on feelings is a great place to start! Teaching children to express their emotions and to learn to read other people's emotions is the first step to developing empathy and compassion. My daughter has learned how to read other people's facial expressions. If she sees me grimace, she will often say, "Mommy, what's the matter? Are you sad? Do you need a kiss?" Take opportunities to talk about how your children feel in different situations, and ask your little ones how they think others are feeling.
teaching compassion

Giving To Others 
Use every opportunity you can to teach your child the importance of giving to others. The act of giving to another teaches selflessness. Have your child participate in making or picking out birthday/special occasion presents for friends and family members. If someone is sick, have your child make them a card. If you pass a homeless person on the street, give your child some money to hand to them. If you see a hungry squirrel in the park, encourage your child to give it some food. Make sure you explain why you are doing these nice acts. For example, "Your friend isn't feeling well, so it will make her so happy if you make her a special card," or, "Grandma's birthday is coming up and she would be so happy if you made her a craft."  You are teaching your child that it is important to serve and help others, and make other people and creatures feel good!  :)

teaching compassion
Painting a picture for Grandpa's birthday!

Observing the World 
Help your child understand that other people/creatures have feelings by pointing things out as they interact with the world. For example, if you see another child fall down and start crying in a park, point it out to your child and say, "Oh dear, she fell and hurt herself.  She's crying because she's sad, so let's see if she needs a hand."  Or if you're on the subway and a person with a cane comes in, you might say, "That man looks tired and it might be hard for him to stand up.  Let's see if he would like to sit down to rest."  Your child will start learning to notice others around them and think of ways to help. Just today my daughter was sitting on a seat in the subway while I stood beside her and she looked up and said, "Mommy, would you like my seat?"  You could even make this a game and see who can come up with more ways to help others you see around you!

teaching compassion

Role-Playing 
Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is empathy in a nutshell. Role-playing is a great way to introduce your child to this concept. For example, after reading a story, have your child pretend to be a character in the book. Pick out characters that go through various difficulties. My daughter's favourite book is about a bunny that wishes she had friends (Snow Bunny's Christmas Wish by Rebecca Harry). I have my daughter pretend to be Snow Bunny who is lonely and asks Santa for friends for Christmas. After we are done playing, we talk about how we can make someone like Snow Bunny feel better. I have watched her transfer this learning to a real life situation when there was a little girl alone in the playground. My daughter said, "Mama, she looks lonely.  I will be her friend," and off she went to play with her. It was definitely a proud mama moment! <3

teaching compassion

Role Modelling 
You are your child's role model. They are watching your every move. They will copy the way they see you interacting with the world. Holding doors for others, offering your seat in the subway, helping an elderly person cross the street, stopping to check on an injured animal, making food for your sick neighbour, etc. are all actions that teach your child compassion. Role-modelling is the single most powerful tool you have to teach your child. Use it well.

teaching compassion

Reading about Compassion and Empathy
Books are amazing for teaching your little ones about all sorts of things, so why not use them to instill compassion in them?  Here are some of the books we read or stories we tell our children (no affiliate links!  Just books we love!):
compassion in children
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Tip! Make up your own stories where your child is the main character performing altruistic actions. For example, my daughter loves the story where she is a caring princess that saves orphaned baby animals in the magical forest. She really enjoys acting out the story while I tell it to her.

How do you instill compassion/empathy in your child? Please share your ideas with us so we can work together to raise children that will make a positive change in this world!

teaching compassion

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