I sat there, amazed, as I watched my 1-1/2 year old comfort another little girl who was sobbing on the ground.
I watched as my daughter comforted this girl who she didn't even know and I wondered,
where did she learn that?
How did she know that when others cry, they need a hug or someone to show them love and understanding?
While some children are born with more of an innate sense of compassion than others, there are things that parents can do to teach and cultivate compassion in children.
1. Teach Gentleness
Physically model to your child what gentleness looks and feels like. Teach your child how to gently pet a dog by taking their hand and guiding it so they know what a gentle touch feels like. If he pushes or pulls or grabs roughly, explain to him that we use our hands to show love for others.
2. Be an Example
Dr. Jim Taylor, a professor of psychology from the University of San Francisco, says that as our children get older, they will notice the daily expressions of compassion we show others. They will notice our "comforting them when they scrape their knees, assuming dinner duties when [a] spouse is stressed out from work, or helping a neighbor with a home project." Children learn from these daily expressions that "compassion doesn't discriminate" and that "acts of compassion can be small or large...or given to friends or strangers." (Source)
3. Use Books and Stories
Books can be a great way to engage children in stories that teach compassion, understanding, and friendship. Parents can also read and tell stories to their children about compassionate people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Mohandas Gandhi.
A great way to teach children compassion is to take them out into the community to serve others. This could be as simple as cleaning up a local park or bringing dinner to a struggling neighbor. Some bigger projects could include volunteering at a nursing home or food kitchen. Whatever service you provide, it teaches children to think about others. (This site provides a list of volunteer opportunities in your area)
5. Monitor Media
Children often model the behavior they see. If they watch television shows filled with disrespectful language, bullying, name-calling, teasing, violence, etc. they are more likely to pick up those behaviors. As parents, we can monitor what types of shows our children watch and encourage shows that promote friendship, sharing, service, and compassion.