How to Raise Compassionate Kids
Psychologists, healthcare providers, parents, and educators weigh in
I collaborate with NBC News’ Education Nation and write and edit content for their website, www.parenttoolkit.com, which is a great resource for all parents looking for help navigating their child’s journey from pre-kindergarten through high school. Health and Wellness, Social-Emotional, and Academic guidelines are given for each grade. Last week, I hosted an hour-long Twitter chat (#ToolkitTalk) for Education Nation with Dr. Maurice Elias, Professor and the Director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University. The topic was How to Raise Compassionate Kids. Many parents, educators, and healthcare providers wrote in to discuss the topic and here are some of the most important take home points. But first, what is compassion? Compassion is empathy in action. It is to feel someone’s feeling and act upon it with the goal of providing relief to the person
- Help your kids notice the ‘caring’ feelings inside their body. When do they notice it? How do they respond to it? Help kids connect to this feeling and act on it.
- The best parents teach compassion to their kids early. Making compassion a core value serves the child and the world.
- We build kids’ compassion first by asking them to notice how others seem to be feeling in different situations. By kindergarten, kids should have the capacity to experience care, concern, or sadness when classmates are troubled.
- Teaching your kids to accept others can help build their social-emotional learning skills. Teach your child about diversity by explaining to him that people are different, and everyone is equal. Make it concrete by asking how he would feel if all his toys were the same or all his crayons were the same color?
- Express your curiosity for those who are different. Help your child view others as enriching not as dangerous or to be feared.
- Research shows that compassionate kids are happier, emotionally connected, and have more friends. Compassion helps others and it serves the child.
- Process with kids what GETS IN THE WAY of acting compassionately. Empathize and validate and brainstorm ideas together.
- Ask your child two ways people were helpful to her during the day and how she was helpful to others to highlight acts of kindness EVERYDAY.
- Self-compassion is also important and kids learn this via modelling. Teach self-compassion by practicing self-compassion as a parent. When parents make a mistake, own it rather than hide it and say “oh well, those things happen sometimes” and move on.
- We cannot always end, heal, or stop the suffering we see but simply pausing to recognize the suffering of others in extremely meaningful and important in building compassion.
- Compassion is indispensable for effective leadership and learning.
- When kids disagree, how can parents teach kids to be compassionate anyway? We do too much either-or reasoning with kids and with each other. We need more “both-and” kind of thinking and talking. Help kids notice competing parts–one part wants to scream and another wants to act compassionately. Help them mediate these competing voices.
- Accept that you can’t force compassionate behavior on your child. Empathize with the child’s feelings if they don’t want to act compassionately in the moment. Pause. Come back to it later and process the feelings underneath the behavior.
- Most importantly, model compassion. Start at home. Treat your family compassionately. Prioritize it. Talk about it daily.
- Another good resource on the topic is Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project (http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/)
You can read more at www.drbobbiwegner.com or read the complete Twitter chat @EducationNation or @drbobbiwegner