Nurturing compassion in the lives of children

December Character Development: Compassion

I recently observed a precious exchange between sisters, four-year-old Katie and younger sister Ellie.

Katie had already made several attempts to cross a low balance beam independently and so when she failed yet again, she crumbled to the floor and began to cry out of frustration.  Eager to comfort, Ellie toddled over to where her big sister sat crying.  Little Ellie practically folded her body in half to look her sister in the eyes, reached out her chubby little hand and patted Katie on the back, then leaning over a little more, gave her big sister a kiss.

Ellie, not even a year and a half old, noticed that her sister was sad and attempted to console her.  Even at her young age, Ellie demonstrated compassion which caused me to wonder: How do we help our children develop compassion like this?

Dr. Jim Taylor in his book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (2011) shares strategies for nurturing compassion in the lives of children.

  1. Live a Compassionate Life: Expressions of compassion are both obvious and subtle. Obvious acts, such as volunteering time for a worthy cause stand out in a child’s mind as an event.  Subtle acts like being kind to the cashier at the grocery store teach children about the day to day actions that make up a life of compassion.
  2. Surround Yourself with Compassionate People: Where you live and with whom you socialize will eventually begin to impact your child’s view of the world.  Keep in mind the messages your child is receiving from outside sources.
  3. Talk to Your Child about Compassion: Explain to your child what it means to be a compassionate person.  Offer examples of what compassion looks like and talk to your child when you see it in action.
  4. Explore Compassion: Help your child gain a deeper understanding of compassion by reading books about compassion.  Help your child to think through and consider how to make compassion a part of the way she lives her life.
  5. Engage Your Child in Compassionate Activities: Encourage your children to comfort one another. Work as a family to care for a community park, foster an abandoned pet, or volunteer at a special event.  Talk about these experiences and about the feelings they inspire. 

Compassion, Dr. Taylor goes on to state, “is the wellspring of so many other special qualities… Compassionate children are gentle, considerate, and sympathetic. They are responsive to others’ needs, helpful, and motivated to do good.”

Think about the many others who observed the little exchange between two sisters.  I wonder how many others were touched by Ellie’s compassion.  How will you help your children develop a life of compassion?


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