Teaching Compassion

Our kindergarten daughter started riding the bus this year and it was not a smooth transition.  Tears, pleas for mom or dad to drive her and sad glances out the bus window were a regular part of our morning routine for several weeks.

While chatting about her bus trip the other night, we learned that an older girl on Erin’s bus has taken it upon herself to walk Erin to her classroom each morning after getting to school.  We did not ask her to do this and didn’t even know it was happening. Erin took this as normal “big-kid” response, but I saw this as wonderful act of compassion.

Our pastor spoke about compassion this week at church. He reminded us that serving others isn’t simply something we do once-in-a-while or around the holidays to make ourselves feel good. It’s something that needs to be part of our every day life.

I want my daughter  to be someone who shows compassion. I want her to someday be the “big-girl” on the bus who reaches out to a child in need. But how do I instill that instinct in her? Two areas of life come to mind that I can focus on to model and teach compassion.

We need to teach our children to see need and ways to alleviate it within their own sphere of influence.  This means helping our child see and verbalize how other friends or family members are feeling and noticing if they are having troubles. If so, is there a way our child can help ease that trouble?  For a small example, Erin’s little brother is too small to reach some of his toys on the toy shelf.   Instead of swooping in myself to fix the problem, I’ve started mentioning his dilemma to Erin and letting her be the problem-solver.  It’s so easy for a young child to be completely egocentric, but small reminders of how others are feeling can help broaden their mindset.

Another area of compassion involves recognizing the needs of others that we don’t know personally.  As I read the paper or hear stories on the news, I try to introduce appropriate topics to my kids.  I watch for stories about other children in our town who are suffering from illness or a family struggle.  We read stories in a children’s magazine about the lives of children in other countries.  Once we comprehend the struggles of other families, we need to talk about how to alleviate it.  One current opportunity for Erin comes through her school’s plan to put together Christmas boxes for needy children in other countries.  Instead of grabbing supplies for Erin’s box while I’m out running errands, which would be quicker and simpler, I want to be sure to discuss this project with Erin and take her along so she sees this as her opportunity to serve those children. As she gets older, we can add  service opportunities here in Grand Rapids to expand her understanding of need and her ability to serve.

These are small steps for small children, but I hope each conversation and each opportunity to serve others will increase my child’s radar to seeing needs and meeting them.

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