Learning Compassion

Merriam-Webster describes compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”.

A few years back our oldest daughter started riding the bus 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.

During that time, we learned that an older girl on our daughter’s bus has taken it upon herself to walk her 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. Our daughter took this as normal “big-kid” response, but I saw this as wonderful act of compassion.

Just as the definition of compassion teaches us, our daughter’s bus-mate recognized her distress about riding the bus and came up with her best solution to help her feel better.

At the time, I realized that I want my daughter to be the child who sees a need and fixes the problem. But how do I create that instinct in her?

I see two areas of life where we can proactively teach and model 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 example, our youngest son is too small to reach some of the games on our gameshelf. Instead of swooping in myself to fix the problem, I’ve started mentioning his problem to our daughter 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.

We have watched a number of friends and family members go through challenging medical diagnosis. As our kids get older and can comprehend these illnesses, we talk about them as a family, imagine what the person is feeling and work together to make cards or treats to share with them as an act of compassion.

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 on other countries. Once we comprehend the struggles of other families, we need to talk about how to alleviate it. In a few months, our school will be organizing Christmas gift boxes for international children. Instead of grabbing needed supplies for the boxes while I’m our running errands, which would be quicker and simpler, I want to be sure to discuss this project with our kids and take them along so she sees this as their opportunity to serve those children. As our kids gets older, we can add service opportunities here in Grand Rapids to expand her understanding of need and her ability to serve.

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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