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Raising a Compassionate Child

One of my proudest parenting moments was when the Grade 1 teacher described my daughter’s compassionate behaviour when a classmate wet herself. While the other children stood around in horror, Clare had taken the disgraced child by the hand with a, “That happens to me too” (not the case) and led her to the washroom.

I’d like to claim that my five year old’s act of compassion was the result of the remarkable examples set by her mother but unfortunately I was often too stressed with kids and work to let my inner compassion shine through. It’s tough to consider others when wet laundry is rotting in the machine and your work pants are held together with tape. However, here are simple things to do in daily life with your child, and who knows where they may lead.

It’s NOT about money or even time
Donations, fundraisers and volunteering are important contributions to model to children once there is more time (and money) but you can sow important seeds of compassion without leaving home or giving money. What you do want to model is a compassionate attitude.

It IS about judgements
Try not to judge other people’s behaviour in front of your child. Maybe the mom that pushed by you wasn’t intentionally rude, maybe her rent cheque just bounced and her son needs glasses. If you do find yourself issuing judgements, discuss it later, “Remember how mommy complained about the smelly man on the bus? What I should have realized is that he probably doesn’t have a home.”

You never know what someone else is going through
It’s infuriating when Sophia comes to daycare yet again with lice. Can’t the mom get it under control? In this situation, it’s easy for a mom to criticize the negligent parent. Alternatively you could say, “I’m sure Sophia’s mom doesn’t want her to have lice, she must be ill or have bad things happening.”

Be sensitive to the less fortunate
When your child hosts a birthday party, makes the team or talks vacation at show ‘n tell, encourage him to be sensitive to the children who don’t have those benefits. “You know how you’d feel if Ethan got a cell phone? Well that maybe how some kids feel when they see your new bike.”

Practice regular random acts of kindness
You probably don’t have the money to buy coffee for the homeless or energy to garden for your neighbours, but next time there is a woman with a screaming baby behind you at the cash, encourage her to move ahead of you. Your child may express surprise and there’s your chance to explain the mother needed to get home more urgently than the two of you.

Talk about mental illness
Many children are confused by people who beg for money and frightened by those who create disruptions in public. When you teach your child to behave politely and with caution around these people, it’s also an opportunity to explain that mental illness can make people act in confusing ways. Greater knowledge is linked to more sympathetic attitudes. Stigma tends to emerge when children don’t understand mental health behaviour and have no other language to describe it. If your child can say “He has an illness that makes him do that” the world will be a better place.

Sow the seeds
My little Clare was a wise old soul in many ways but for years she freaked when she spied the developmentally disabled woman collecting carts at our supermarket. Despite coaxing from me, she couldn’t let go of that fear. However, now at university, she takes a similarly challenged woman for a weekly gym workout.

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Today’s story is from Lydia at TogetherMoms.ca. If you have a story you would like to share with us, please head over to the Submit a Story page.

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