You’re never too young to learn compassion. In fact, if the very act of compassion is weaved into the very fabric of life from an early age, becoming the foundation of all actions, then the chances of the world becoming a more compassionate one is more likely.
Compassion incorporates many different values – philanthropy, empathy, kindness, humanity, understanding, benevolence, generosity. This is not to say the children shouldn’t learn about, and be aware of, the opposite values – bullying, prejudice, apathy, violence, detachment (among many others). The more aware of them we are, the more we can work against their effect on society. Ignorance of these ‘anti-compassion’ values is dangerous and unrealistic.
Speak the language of compassion
Language is a powerful tool for communicating not just thoughts and feelings, but also for helping to lead the flow of emotions. Writer Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” The words you use create an energy that influences the actions of those around you.
Use language around your children that is encouraging, uplifting, and empowering. Avoid language that denigrates, is negative, inflicts pain and hurt.
Teach by example
Our children mimic our every move, expression, turn of phrase, behaviour. Behaving in ways that are based on kindness and compassion will create a stress free environment which will enable our children to grow up in a healthy, positive and carefree way.
Encourage acts of compassion
Encourage your child to weave hobbies and activities into their day that make a difference. Whether that is joining a programme to sponsor an orphan, visiting the an older or vulnerable person in your community, taking a neighbours dog for a walk – they don’t have to be major activities, but simple acts for another person that demonstrates empathy and kindness.
Demonstrate active listening
Active listening is a key way of truly understanding another person. It involves giving the person talking your undivided attention and hearing the underlying message that the speaker is trying to get across. Active listening is a real skill that will stand any child in good stead both through their school and college years, and into the workplace. The earlier a child can understand the concept of active listening, the more they will know to do it themselves.
Active listening is a route to empathy and compassion. Encourage active listening by demonstrating how to do it, and encouraging your child to repeat the action with others.
Encourage self compassion
While demonstrating compassion for others is a healthy and empowering act, balancing it out with self compassion is a positive step towards ensuring children grow up to be emotionally strong and resilient. Compassion fatigue is a quality that is commonly reported in many of the caring professions. For example, 40 per cent of teachers report compassion fatigue in their profession.
On the same way that parents are encouraged to put their own oxygen mask on in the event of an emergency on a plane, it is important for every individual to learn to take care of their own emotional wellbeing and develop resilience. This can be done through both organised activities and teaching children self awareness.
Small acts lead to global changes
The American author Leo Buscaglia said: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to run a life around.”
The earlier a child learns how the simplest, easiest acts of kindness and compassion can compound into larger movements of energy, the more the world can change for the good.