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Teaching Compassion to Your Children

Raising compassionate children is no small feat these days. Because of the egocentrism of children's early years combined with the increasingly prevalent messages of selfishness, narcissism, and indifference that popular culture communicates to them, children are not likely to readily learn compassion on their own. This means that you have to make an extra effort to instill this essential value in your children’s lives.

Live a Compassionate Life

You send the most powerful messages about compassion to your children by living and expressing those messages in your own life. If you lead a compassionate life, your children will get this message frequently and consistently, and will likely internalize it in their own lives.

Surround Yourself With Compassionate People

As your children expand their social world, the messages from others become increasingly influential. You can actively create a critical mass of people and institutions that will support and reinforce your messages of compassion. The neighborhoods in which you live, the other families with whom you socialize, the schools your children attend, and the activities in which your children participate are all a part of your children's "message environment" over which you can exert an influence. When you surround your children with like-minded people you not only ensure that your children get supportive messages from many different sources, but those people also act as a shield against unwanted messages directed toward them.

Engage Your Children in Compassionate Activities

There is no more powerful way of sending messages of compassion to your children than by having them experience it directly through compassionate activities. You can encourage acts of compassion in your family, for example, consoling a sibling who is upset or being extra loving when you have the flu.

You can make compassionate activities family affairs in which all of you participate, for example, fostering an abandoned pet. You can then talk about the experiences over dinner to share stories, discuss who and how everyone might have helped most, and to share the feelings that the experience evoked.

What makes compassion so wonderful for children is that its expression is a win-win for those involved. The giver feels the satisfaction of giving and the receiver expresses appreciation and will likely reciprocate in some way with that person and others.

Photo Credit: Joelle M Photography

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