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Note: This article has
nothing to do with politics and everything to do with kindness.
Like the rest of the world, I was shocked to my very core
when I read about the attacks in Paris. Tears streamed down my face as I
thought about the fear and sadness that can only result from such a tragedy. I
I waited a few days to talk about it with my kids. We
encountered a small memorial set up outside our city hall while riding bikes
over the weekend. I gave a brief, age-appropriate account of the attacks, and
then we talked about empathy and compassion before saying a few prayers.
When tragedy strikes, people come together. We light
candles, we send prayers if we believe in the power of prayer, we search for
ways to help and we light up our social media profiles to show that we care. We
Until we don't.
Sadly, I've seen a few negative Facebook posts in the
aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The worst part? Many of these
diatribes boil down to a lack of compassion.
Parents love to talk to me about what they perceive to be a
generation of entitled, spoiled kids in the making. They cite lack of parenting
skills and too much emphasis on self-esteem as the main triggers of this
"epidemic." They ask me what needs to change in order to raise a generation of
kind and responsible kids. Then they hop on Facebook and rant about refugees
High on emotions and low on facts, they demonstrate a complete
lack of compassion in a public forum.
The truth is that if we want to raise kind, empathic and
responsible children, we have to focus on compassion. At the heart of
compassion is the notion that we are not alone in this world. We care about
others, and others care about us. When we all help each other, everyone wins.
Follow these steps to teach compassion in your home.
1. Live a compassionate
We send messages about compassion in big and small ways.
When we stop what we're doing to help a friend or family member in need, either
by providing a listening ear or taking some kind of action, we show our
children that helping others is important. When we comfort our children through
skinned knees and friendship troubles, we demonstrate the power of empathy.
Living a compassionate life means caring for others and
empathizing during difficult times. In volunteering our time, we teach the
importance of community. In helping one another within the family, we show our
children that we can make one another feel better simply by pitching in and
being present. That's a powerful lesson.
2. Talk about it
If we want our children to demonstrate empathy and
compassion (two fairly difficult concepts in the mind of a child), we have to
talk about them. Help your child develop a feelings vocabulary but don't focus
solely on your child. Take it one step further by talking about how others feel
in various situations.
Role play is a great way to help kids understand and
practice empathy and compassion. Come up with scenarios that your child is
likely to encounter and play out ways to resolve them.
3. Help others
Little kids can be very big helpers. While it might seem
like community service projects are better for older kids, even little kids can
make a big difference. Host a lemonade stand to raise money for a family in
need. Help an elderly neighbor rake leaves or carry groceries. Put together
activity packs for kids undergoing medical treatment in your local children's
When we make efforts (both big and small) to help others, we
teach kids the importance of extending a hand to those in need.
4. Treat others with
respect and patience
It is widely known that young children mimic the behavior
they see, so it stands to reason that they will do as you do in various
situations. If you want to raise a compassionate child, you have to consider
how you behave all of the time (not just when you happen to be doing something
nice for someone else).
Treating others with respect shows our children that all
people have a right to be treated in a kindly manner. Remaining patient during
a frustrating interaction demonstrates the importance of understanding that
sometimes life is hard, and everyone has a bad day once in a while.
The single most important thing to remember about teaching
compassion is that compassion doesn't discriminate. You can't call yourself
compassionate because you helped a few people, if you then turn around and
discriminate against a few others.
You might think that Facebook to parenting is a big leap to
make, but I find in my psychotherapy practice that it isn't. When we carry
around the strong emotions that trigger us to vent in a public forum in search
of support, it's nearly impossible to shield our children from those same
feelings. We owe it to our children to practice compassion every single day—even when something terrible scares us to our very cores.