Loving ways to raise a compassionate child in a me-first world
One of the most common questions parents ask me is, "How, in this materialistic, competitive world can I raise kind children?" My answer is to begin by being a kind adult. When your child sees you going the extra mile to help a friend, carrying someone's groceries, making a meal for a new family that just moved in, or inviting people into your life who aren't exactly like you, he will naturally see this as the right way to live.
We are mirrors for our kids: When children observe your examples of kindness, they'll know where to begin. One day, I mentioned that I had a tummy ache, and my 8-year-old dashed up the stairs to run a bath, turn down my bed, and lay out my favorite nightie. You know who had treated her tummy aches in just such a way.
Kindness is a quality that isn't often rewarded in our schools, so we must make a strong effort to acknowledge it at home. Kids are naturally empathetic from an early age: As newborns, they cry when they hear another baby crying; they offer their favorite doll to the friend who has scraped his knee. We tend to expect our young children to grow out of this compassion and become self-absorbed. "Oh it's the terrible twos," we say. "Kids just can't share at this age." What if we shifted our expectations and saw our kids as truly caring beings? Boys in particular are often rewarded for being clever or assertive, but not often for showing compassion.
A busy mother I know is making an effort to acknowledge her young son's kindness. She recalls, "I went with the second grade on the bus to the zoo last fall, and Michael sat next to a classmate who uses a wheelchair and is mentally impaired. I was amazed at how helpful and considerate he was, and I was quick to compliment him when we got home."
Kindness, empathy, compassion, and love grow from appreciation and respect, and in turn create more of both. Instead of comparing kids and fostering competition--"You have the best voice in the choir"--it would help to applaud their thoughtfulness. For example, you could say, "I liked the way you complimented Amy's painting."
In an achievement-oriented culture, we may focus more on grades and sports victories than on values of the heart. Take the time to acknowledge kind actions as having true worth.
We can weave kindness into our everyday lives, for example, by creating a "kindness board" and posting it on the fridge. Each time a family member does something kind, he or she can write it on the board when it's acknowledged.