5 Simple Ways to Nurture Compassion in Children

This is a sponsored post for Unicef
All opinions expressed are my own

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I once was told, when I first started working with younger children, that they did not have a capacity for compassion or empathy until they reached at least 5 or 6. I don’t recall who exactly it was that felt the need to impart such knowledge but I do remember it was someone who was meant to know what they were talking about. I also remember disagreeing with the statement.

Now, with three children of my own I know that, in actual fact, children have a beautiful and natural ability to feel and show compassion. Even Jasper, who is currently going through a decidedly egocentric stage, is able to feel for others; his sisters when they’re hurt (unless he was the culprit), any of us when we’re upset, the dog and even when we’re watching movies he will snuggle up and talk about a character being sad – all with big puppy dog eyes and a pout. My job, is to nurture these naturally occurring emotions in my little people and to encourage them to continue reaching out when moved to do so.

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Below are five simple ways we are nurturing their beautiful compassionate hearts;

Showing compassion ourselves – I believe important lessons always start at home. Telling children one thing and doing another sends mixed messages which will, most often result in the action being copied as apposed to the words. There’s a reason for that saying, after all. I cannot expect to see caring, compassionate actions from my children if I am not showing them myself.

On top of trying to consistently and actively be compassionate towards others, I also hope to do the same towards them. As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to remember to show compassion, as hard is that is to admit.

Talking  – There are lots of moments which can lead to honest, open (age appropriate) conversations. When we went to Sydney on our most recent trip and Ellie saw the people sleeping and living on the streets, she was heart broken. It opened up the opportunity to talk about the fact that people aren’t always as blessed as us.

When there have been issues at school between other children we have been able to talk about how they might feel and what Ellie might be able to do to help them feel better. These days, the stories include how she was able to comfort her friend or even children who she’s not so close to.

While I don’t like to have the news on while they’re around to see or hear it, I do think it’s important they know and understand things that are happening which are beyond our understanding and I want them to know there are people out there who are helping, taking a stand, making change and most importantly, that they can be those people. If they happen to catch some of the news, like the recent happenings in Syria, I try to be as honest as I can. It’s a thin line between knowing too little, knowing too much, being ignorant and being bombarded I find.

Performing Random Acts of Kindness – Last holidays (I think?), as we were wandering around in town I had the urge to ask the girls if they were interested in buying some flowers to give out to people while doing our grocery shopping. They were extremely keen and so we made our way into Coles with a gorgeous bunch of pink flowers. I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen and, at the beginning, felt sure they wouldn’t really give any flowers out but soon enough they were delighting all those around as they handed out happiness. Afterwards, they excitedly chatted about how it had felt to make those people smile.

The best thing about Random Acts of Kindness is they don’t have to be big, showy acts – they don’t even have to be a single flower. Holding open the door (which Jasper has taken to doing – THE CUTE!), letting someone with less shopping go through the checkout first, a chocolate for the mother you know is struggling – these are all simple yet effective ways to be compassionate.

Giving – Jasper loves to pop change in the heads of the dogs at the supermarkets, you know the ones? It’s a great opportunity for me to remind them what the money is used for and who it helps. It gives them a connection between what they are doing in that moment and how it can make a difference.

Giving with a happy heart is not always an easy task, there are always bills to pay and things to worry about financially. I want to instill the importance of digging deep when they are so called. There are so many organisations and issues and needy people, it can be overwhelming. But, I want them to honour that tug in their heart, that compelling feeling to give to the causes which speak to them.

For me, the causes which rip at me are those involving children. Probably for obvious reasons. Children not being given the basics for living, not having rights, being hurt and killed for no good reason. These are the reason I chose to take on this post because a child hurt hurts the world.
If this cause speaks to you, please Donate to Unicef.

Learning and acting – Arming ourselves with knowledge is a powerful thing. From discovering and researching causes and issues to better equipping ourselves to understand where another might be coming from.

We encourage this through our passion for visiting zoos to learn about and support the conservation efforts they are actioning. The talks, which the children love, give us a problem and a call to action. As a family we have significantly cut our palm oil intake, we actively seek out products with no or sustainably sourced palm oil and have made other earth and species aware moves which can be nothing but a good thing.

We follow up our visits by chatting, thinking and doing research. When they’re a little older we can start learning about other issues which might need our attention. However, compassion is not only for people, animals and the earth need it, too

I believe each of these little things will add up to big things and that my children will not only have big, beautiful hearts for all people but that they will share them, reach out and make a difference.

10 Comments

  1. Lovely post, and great tips. I agree wholeheartedly – children have compassion from the get-go. We can nurture it, or ignore it. Or worse, teach contempt in its place.

  2. Great post. I particularly agree with you (very difficult) admission that sometimes as parents we forget to show compassion to our own children as we get caught up in our own daily struggles. Definitely guilty of that one lately!! Thanks for the reminder x

  3. Great post! I really liked the idea of handing out flowers 🙂 I would agree with you that children are intuitively compassionate and if we can just nurture that in them then they will grow up to be compassionate people.

  4. I love this post Becky. I don’t believe a child is at least 5 before the can understand showing compassion either.

    A great reminder for all of us parents to remember to model the qualities we want our children to have.

    MC x
    #teamIBOT

  5. Good on you for teaching your kids to be generous, compassionate and tolerant souls. I have to disagree that kids don’t learn or understand compassion until 5 or 6 too. I see it in my almost 4 year old already 🙂

  6. Lovely piece. Agree with the last part about arming ourselves with information. It can be hard sometimes when everything seems chaotic and hectic. But great to take a step back and a moment to reflect on what’s important! 🙂 Visiting via #fybf http://www.facebook.com/goldcoastmum

  7. Lovely post – compassion along with resilience are the things I most want to teach our kids, but I’m with you – we are born with an innate empathy of others, a sense of connection – I think it is a genetic survival thing in our human society as well as a deeply spiritual sense that we are all one. I love the idea of the flowers – what a simple but beautiful thing to do. My son is the same with ‘putting money in the dog’ and he is understand it is good to put the money in the dog instead of the little ride.

  8. Lovely post. I agree, children can be compassionate from a very young age. My husband and I try to model the way in our household and we always talk about feelings alot too.

  9. I have always given my kids coins for the Guide ‘dogs’ at the supermarket and I go out of my way to try and be nice to other people when my kids are around. Although I can be a real bitch head I try and not be so when my kids are around, I want them to be courteous, caring and compassionate, I mean I am most of the time, except when I have PMS 🙂 xx

  10. A great post to remind us of the messages we are sending our children in our every day actions. I have a 4 year old and he is definitely able to have empathy and compassion.

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