The news and media are full of stories of children who are bullied at school. And to counteract this, many parents focus on teaching their children why bullying is wrong, and how to cope with it at school.
However, in focusing on the problem, we might be overlooking the solution. In order to create healthier and safer settings for our children, we need to know how raise more compassionate children. Here are seven top tips to try in your family.
The ability to be empathetic lies in all of us. It’s what makes us attuned to the feelings and emotions of other people. One of the best ways to cultivate compassionate children is to help your child become aware of and acknowledge his or her own emotions.
When your child feels an emotion, try not to stifle it or shame them. Instead, help them identify and acknowledge that they’re feeling a certain way. This will make it easier for your child to recognize the emotions of another individual and feel empathetic.
And when you can feel empathy toward someone, compassion naturally follows. That’s because you’re able to imagine how someone must be feeling, and do so without judging their experience or making them feel unworthy because of it.
Set Consistent Expectations
Even though compassion is a loving and caring subject, rules and boundaries are still important. For example, if your child acts out and misbehaves, you as the parent must make him or her aware that this behavior is unacceptable.
This might feel contradictory to you as the parent, especially if you strive to be compassionate and caring. But being passive in the face of bad behavior will not help your child become compassionate. Instead, you could easily end up with a self-centered and spoiled child.
You can set consistent rules and expectations firmly and compassionately. And instead of being inconsistent with compassion, it helps your child learn what is and isn’t loving behavior, both toward others and toward themselves.
Develop Curiosity about Feelings
When you and your child are interacting with other people, there will be many opportunities to observe all different types of behaviors and reactions. For example, you might meet a cashier who is unfriendly. Or, you might meet a barista who seems rushed and stressed.
In moments like these, parents have two options. They can either show judgement toward these people, or they can help their child develop curiosity about the feelings of other people.
For example, if the cashier was unfriendly, you could easily remark about how rude she was, and how you don’t deserve to be treated that way. Or, you could ask your child what the cashier might be feeling to make her act that way.
Therefore, instead of judging other people’s emotional experiences, you take these opportunities to empathize with them and make room for their feelings – whether they are positive or negative.
Treat Your Children with Respect
As parents, it’s easy to take on the leading, dominant role. And that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, your child needs you to be a leader and to be an authoritative figure. But try not to confuse your role as parent and guide with being condescending or disrespectful.
Your child might be younger than you, but he or she is an individual in their own right. Someday, they’ll become a full fledged adult, but until then, they’re looking to you for guidance.
How you treat your child shows them how to treat other people, especially individuals who they see as “below” them, i.e., people working in the service industry, etc.
Recognize Your Child’s Needs
When your child is still young, he or she will experience their emotions very intensely. What’s more, they’re still learning how to cope with this flood of emotions. That’s why, as an adult, it can be hard to understand why your kid won’t stop crying over a balloon or ice cream. You would just get over it and move on. But that’s much harder for your child to do.
Nonetheless, it’s important to identify why they’re upset, and use it as an opportunity to be empathetic. For example, if your child gets moody because she’s tired, be honest and say that you feel grumpy when you get tired, too.
Or, if your child gets upset because he can’t have anymore ice cream, you can say that you also feel sad when you can’t have what you want.
Maybe you don’t get upset about ice cream or balloons, but that’s not the point. The point is that you get upset when you miss out, and this is how you can recognize your child’s needs and be compassionate with them.
Be a Good Example of Compassion
It’s hard to raise compassionate children when you’re not setting an example of empathy. Therefore, if you see someone who needs help or support, offer support and talk about it with your child. You can even volunteer at a soup kitchen, or donate goods to a food bank.
It’s not just about showcasing suffering and misfortune to your child. It’s about showing your child that we can feel compassion and act with compassion in order to help lift and relieve suffering and negativity from the lives of others.
Whenever you have the opportunity to lend a hand, or offer a word of comfort to someone, do so! Your child will learn from your example and carry these compassionate practices with them into adulthood.
Expose Your Child to Different Cultures
Depending on the neighborhood or city your family lives in, your child can have a lot, or very little exposure to different cultures and people. Either way, try to introduce your child to different ethnic and cultural groups. Try not to do this for mere exposure, but to teach your child about different customs, behaviors and standards.
When we’re ignorant about other cultures, it’s easy to feel arrogant towards them. Instead, when you give your child exposure to them, as well as the opportunity to be curious and ask questions, you help them become more compassionate.
Learning to be compassionate is a great gift to give your child. And in the end, everyone benefits, whether it’s the people giving or receiving compassion. Which tip do you think you’ll try with your child?