It’s safe to say that parents want to raise kind, considerate, and compassionate children to grow up to be helpful and contributing members of society. But how do you go about teaching compassion to children? It starts with teaching them kindness. And that should start at home.
A few years ago, I was searching for a way to teach my children compassion, something that can be challenging for children. Throughout childrearing, we often see nature vs. nurture play out firsthand. Some kids are instinctively compassionate and others struggle with it.
So, I set forth to create more opportunities for teaching compassion into our home. The days of kindness became a part of our February endeavors. Since I witnessed an incredible change in my children during those days of kindness, we now have days of kindness that stretch into the year.
The Days of Kindness
By definition, compassion is to show sympathy for another’s distress. Children are often naturally compassionate. When a friend gets hurt, children present bandaids and offer hugs to show compassion. As our children grow, they are exposed to hate and hostility in the world. They often become less in tune with their natural instincts of compassion.
The Kindness Elves were created as a way to initiate acts of kindness. Pop and Sparkle, are presented to your children through a wonderful book where they discuss how they came to be and where they live. The elves ask two children in the book to do acts of kindness for their neighbors as there is an obvious need. The needs are not huge, this does not cost a lot of money, but the needs are emotionally significant. For example, one elderly neighbor is lonely, so the kindness elves suggest the kids take a boardgame to her home and play with her. Compassion is often as simple as that.
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The idea is to encourage the next generation to be more compassionate. To take action when someone’s distress is recognized, and to do so through acts of service. Teaching compassion is often easiest when we have ready opportunities, and when we show them by doing it ourselves.
Finding Opportunities to Teach Compassion
Just like your kitchen when your kids cook, collaboration on acts of kindness as a family can be messy. Sometimes, you have to go big to show compassion, and in February of 2017, we did just that.
We were living on base at Camp Lejeune and 14 families in the neighborhood had just seen their fathers/husbands off on deployment. So, we decided that we would make chocolate-covered strawberries for those spouses now alone on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”Dalai Lama
The kids awoke to the Kindness Elves leaving them a heart-shaped note requesting that they help mom make chocolate-covered strawberries because it would bring joy to others. They were excited because chocolate + strawberries + sprinkles = fun. We started a long process of cleaning, coring, and dipping the strawberries. That evening we walked around the neighborhood with a wagon delivering kindness and compassion to others.
Teaching Compassion with Acts of Kindness
Our acts of kindness were sometimes small but they still brought great happiness. As you plan out your week of kindness consider any families you know who just had a baby, and may need dinner. Consider anyone you know who just had surgery, or hasn’t heard from you in a while and send a letter. Include your children when you show compassion, as well. When a friend has a baby, consider something small for the new siblings as well. Like playdough, a book, or a small toy.
Sometimes opportunities for teaching compassion partner with other teaching moments. Once, when a neighbor was building planting boxes, we were studying botany in our homeschool lesson. We went to the store and picked out a few different types of seeds and planted them in starters and gifted them. There are many ways to make small acts of kindness and compassion work for your family, even when budgets are tight and calendars are packed.
When it is time for Pop and Sparkle to head back to their home on Cloud 9, they depart in the night through the window, leaving behind a journal to document your acts of kindness throughout the year. We have since gifted our Kindness Elves kit to another family, but the elves are a beautiful way to start. The elves come with everything you need to have a successful week’s worth of kindness days. Once you get the hang of it teaching compassion will be easily incorporated into your everyday life.
Children want to show others compassion and so do adults. Sometimes, we all struggle to find ways to do it simply. By scheduling days of kindness, you can cause a ripple effect. Raising compassionate people is challenging, but teaching compassion doesn’t have to be.
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Photo Credit: Lydia Bradbury