“What is the most important quality you want your kids to have?”
We asked Our Whole Village’s awesome community this question and the answer was…
KINDNESS. Closely followed by COMPASSION.
And I couldn’t agree more. In the words of no other than the Dalai Lama, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Psychologists at Harvard University have been studying what it takes to raise caring children. The Making Caring Common project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education reveals: “Research in human development clearly shows that the seeds of empathy, caring, and compassion are present from early in life, but that to become caring, ethical people, children need adults to help them at every stage of childhood to nurture these seeds into full development.“
Interestingly, according to this same study, “even though most parents and caretakers say that their children being caring is a top priority, often children aren’t hearing that message.“ There’s a gap between what adults tell children they should value and what children perceive from our behavior, which is that we value achievement and happiness above all else.
The researchers at Harvard suggest a number of guideposts for raising caring, respectful, and ethical children:
- Make caring for others a priority
- Help children find daily ways to practice being caring and helpful
- Be a positive role model
- Help children manage destructive feelings and think through ethical dilemmas
- Teach children to “zoom out” and consider new perspectives
- Encourage youth to stand up for those who are vulnerable
Check out their cool infographic and their full report for great tips on how to put these guideposts into action.
How else can we nurture these important values? Here are a few more practical ideas:
Say please and thank you.
What parent does not get tired of constantly reminding their children to say “please” and “thank you”? It may seem pointless at times, but we’re teaching them to be friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
Talk about it.
Explain to your kids that kindness and compassion involve focusing on others rather than on themselves. It’s more than just being nice. It’s comforting a classmate who’s struggling, being gentle and caring with those who are vulnerable, bringing happiness to others.
Read about it.
Picture books can help us teach important life lessons. Books such as Unspoken and Bear Feels Sick are a couple of our favorites. Check this link and this link for more recommendations on books that teach about kindness and compassion.
Care for a pet.
Okay, maybe this is not that practical for you, the parent, but what better way to nurture compassion than having a child care for a pet? The daily routine of having to selflessly care for another being is a powerful tool for teaching compassion. As an added benefit, children who care for pets learn other values such as responsibility and unconditional love.
Acknowledge and praise.
Small daily acts of kindness make a difference. Recognize those and your child will soon be eager to perform more acts of kindness for others. There’s no need for material reward. Simple heartfelt praise can go a long way.
Practice giving away freely.
At the end of every season, set a date with your child to go over their old clothes and toys. Make it a special date. Enjoy talking about the memories associated with each item while practicing to let go. Help your child select what stays and what goes, and talk about how happy other kids will feel to have his or her clothes and toys.
Make it a habit.
Incorporate a kindness ritual into your child’s bedtime routine. I’ve already talked about a gratitude ritual in this post, but you could expand it to encourage your child to talk about any kind deeds she did that day. We also LOVE these “Compassion It” wristbands. Such a fun and easy way to make compassion front-of-mind. Simply flip the wristband once you ‘compassion it’!
Do you have any other tips? Share them in the comments!