There are many important traits we want to instill in our children as they grow. We want them to grow into brave, ambitious, hard-working, successful adults. However, there is one trait that may be more important than all the rest, a trait that will benefit your child’s social development: compassion.
As a parent, you have a significant influence on your child’s personality; we all know that children mimic adult behavior, so the way you treat others will have a huge impact on your child. Children have a natural tendency to show compassion and identify with animals and other children. Often at war with that compassion are other natural tendencies such as their need to come first, a need for instant gratification, and limited control over impulses; this is where you come in. You can teach your child to have compassion and empathize with others by remembering a few pointers:
1. Teach through your actions
Of course, the most important way to teach your child to be compassionate is to “walk the walk”. Lead by example. Show them you mean what you say. Random acts of kindness are a phenomenal way to show a young child what it means to be compassionate. In early childhood, it is very difficult to get your message through with words, repeated actions will resonate much deeper. Show your child that when someone needs help, you are willing to take the time to help them, even if it may not be convenient for you. Point out acts of kindness and compassion in their favorite television shows and books. Volunteer for organizations that help those in need (even animals), and bring your child along, they’ll learn at a very early age to associate compassion with happiness and pride. Most importantly, show compassion to your child. They will take great comfort in the way you empathize with them. Your compassion will make them feel at peace, which will lead to a life-long empathy for others.
2. Encourage gentleness and respect
In order to have compassion for others, children must learn to respect others. Many toddlers will go through that horrifying “terrible twos” phase, where they test their boundaries and limits. They might pull your hair, spit in your face, or pinch their baby brother. When they engage in behavior like this, respond with a firm reprimand such as “No. We do NOT spit on people”. These lessons have to be repeated often, as toddlers don’t have the best long-term memories. Teach your child that they should treat others how they want to be treated; for example, “Mommy wouldn’t pull your hair because she knows it would hurt you”. Encourage gentleness by physically taking their hands and showing how to touch their baby brother or the family dog in a gentle manner. Speak softly and avoid ranting or yelling, your child will naturally develop a calm demeanor if you have one yourself. A calm demeanor will allow your child to respond well in social situations and be more likely to empathize with others rather than only worrying about their own needs and feelings. If you do lose it for a minute (we all have those stressful days!), apologize. Showing your child that you are not afraid to admit when you are wrong is a great way to reinforce respect.
3. Help them be a good friend
Play groups, story time, preschool…these are all excellent opportunities to teach your child how to be a good friend who shows compassion. Maybe there is a student in your child’s preschool class who has a hard time separating from mom and often cries at drop-off. Ask your child how he or she thinks the classmate is feeling, and then recommend an action that could help the classmate feel better. Your child will probably come up with something on their own with a gentle nudge from you; he or she might decide it would be nice to give their classmate a hug or allow the other child to hold the favorite stuffed animal that they brought because it’s something they associate with comfort. Perhaps you’re attending a play group and one child dropped her snack on the ground, encourage your child to share his snack. Little actions that include others who are left out, comfort those who are sad, and promote sharing lead to a very compassionate personality.
The early years are incredibly important to the development of your child’s personality. Making compassion an important family value will ensure that your child grows into an adult who is caring and able to empathize with others. Children learn so much from their parents. The way a parent behaves and treats others has a major impact on the child’s developing personality. Remember to always treat your child with compassion as well, your child will make the connection that your compassionate nature makes them feel good, and they’ll want to share it with others. Growing up in a kind, caring, helpful household shapes a personality that they are sure to carry into adulthood.