When my wife Keren was pregnant for the first time, we became engrossed in a conversation about what was ‘missing’ from the society we were about to bring our children into. This led to identifying the types of character traits we would love to develop in our children, so that they might be part of a future solution.
If there was one trait that we desperately wanted our children to embody, it was compassion.
Our kids, Noah, Tia, Indi and Ty are now 12, 10, 8 and 6 respectively, and I’m proud and humbled to say that compassion is a character trait that they all exhibit. They’re not the ‘perfect kids’ (just wait until you hear how our eldest’s ‘compassion’ landed us in a rather sticky situation below!) and we are by no means the ‘perfect parents’, but if I could share with you our 4 steps to raising compassionate kids, this would be them;
1. It starts with you!
In raising our kids to care about people throughout the world, we knew that it had to start with us. If we ignored the poor or marginalized, if we made racist comments or allowed racist comments in our home, if we stored up all our own possessions and never shared our resources or wealth with others, how could we encourage our kids to?
2. Let your kids see your compassion in action
When we lived in a diverse, colourful neighbourhood with small children, we regularly had people knocking on our door asking for various things, predominantly money or food. My wife always had baked goods that she could give to people, regularly cooked extra dinners to share with others, as well as inviting people in when they needed to talk. Our kids witnessed this almost daily occurrence, to the point where they had no ‘stranger danger’ at all.
When we reached the stage where we felt we needed to teach them about certain dangers, we asked them what they would do if there were a stranger on the doorstep who wanted to come in our house. They replied, “Ask them if they’re hungry and want some food?”
What a beautiful, compassionate response (though somewhat scary on the flip side!).
3. Our things are gifts to be shared
Life is far more exciting and interesting when you invite other people to be part of your journey, and that involves sharing your time, food, energy, and resources. But if you have none of these things left for each other, being ‘compassionate’ will become more of a burden than a joy for you and your children.
It’s important to allow them to choose a few items that are special and not to be shared, that can be put away when friends come over and brought out again once they leave. This allows kids to make choices about the possessions they have, and allows them to make value judgments. It helps in teaching them that the majority of toys are there to be shared with siblings and friends, but it’s also ok to have a few things that are to be treasured.
4. Keep having fun
This is a classic moment that still makes us laugh now. When our eldest was 4, he heard our neighbour’s backdoor bang as they headed outback for a smoke one morning. He jumped up on the fence and said (unbeknownst to us), “Dad’s making pancakes and you’re invited!”
Dad was indeed making pancakes, wearing a lovely frilly apron and nothing else! The next thing we knew, we heard the back gate slam shut and our neighbours heads appeared at our backdoor. Dad gracefully backed away from the kitchen, front facing towards them, as they stood frozen, laughing, as our eldest boy, oblivious to our embarrassment, ushered them inside to share in our pancakes!
– – – – –
- Choose 3 people you admire or respect and think about why they inspire you. What traits do they model that you would like to adopt into your everyday decision making?
- Be a role model and make a meal for your neighbour, or invite someone over that you know could do with some companionship.
- Encourage your children to give away something of theirs to someone who needs it more than they do.
Finally, we want to invite you to sign up to our new online community, for families living life for today #thisonedayislife
Question: What tips do you have for raising your kids to be compassionate towards others? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.