In the ‘Me’ world that our children grow up in, thanks to materialism, it is high time we taught them to be compassionate. Here’s how we can do it.
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart” - from ‘Shatter Me’ by Iranian-American best-selling author Tahereh Mafi
Well, this ‘touching another human being with your heart’ is what compassion is all about. And, if we want to raise children who possess this trait it is first of all essential to practise it ourselves. The next step would be to integrate it into our daily life. For, teaching values in isolation will rarely have the same effect. Above all, it is important to begin early while imparting these values. You can incorporate them in the bedtime stories you narrate to your toddler, the party games that you plan, the puppet shows you put up or the role-play activities you engage your child in during her playtime. While these different steps and modes of teaching compassion will certainly help your child imbibe this quality, you also need to let your child know what constitutes compassion. So, here’s what compassion means and how to impart the same to your child -
Being kind: Does the boy who lives next door pelt stones at every dog or cat that passes by? Teach your child to intervene and protect the dog from the shower of stones. Such proactive kindness will go a long way in moulding her character as a compassionate person. Also, encourage her to be kind in both her speech as well as her acts. Let her avoid rude or impolite language. And, when a classmate or playmate is being bullied, teach your child to stand up for the victim against the bully.
Being respectful: Be it addressing teachers, elders in the family or even those of his age, teach your child to be polite and respectful. Let him learn to treat everyone with the respect that is due to them. Respecting also involves being willing to listen to others and attempting to understand their points of view.
Being helpful: Beginning from helping out with household chores to running errands for senior citizens in the neighbourhood, let your child be willing to offer help to those in need. Being aware of others’ needs will instil compassion in your child. Let her realise early on that ‘A friend in need is a friend in deed’.
Being considerate: Your child should learn to be tolerant of others’ faults and be considerate when they err. This is, after all, a reflection of a compassionate nature. If your child raises a hue and a cry over every tiny slip of those around him, he will come across as an inconsiderate person.
Being empathetic: Getting into the other person’s shoes and experiencing what they feel is very essential to becoming a compassionate person. Let your child understand what empathy means and why it is important for her to be empathetic. In fact, empathy is a key trait, which lays the foundation for most other traits to be built. Visits to places such as old age homes, orphanages or homes for the sick will help nurture empathy in your child.
Being conscious of feelings: Encourage your child to be an emotionally literate person. Let him be aware of his own as well as others’ feelings. Teach him to identify and understand feelings. Only when he is able to understand people will he be able to show his compassion for them. Build your child’s ‘emotions’ vocabulary. This will help him to express his feelings better and understand feelings when they are expressed.
Being concerned: Teach your child to have concern for others’ welfare and care for them. Simple acts such as nurturing a plant, taking care of a pet, looking after a younger sibling, or tending to the needs of a grandparent will help develop concern in your child.
Being generous: “No one has ever become poor by giving,” wrote young Anne Frank in her famous diary. Encourage generosity in your child. Whether it means sharing her favourite toy with a playmate or reaching out to offer gifts to the less privileged in your neighbourhood, let her savour the joy of giving.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well,” said the American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Let our children learn to make this difference.
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Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj