Compassion is one of the words that I want my oldest son to remember about himself as he grows. I wrote about that just over a year ago and was trying to figure out how I could teach a young child to learn how to practice it.
Today, this lad made me proud as he practiced compassion, without being prompted. He overheard a conversation that his mama had with one of the homeless men outside of the library - as I threw away an empty pizza box that was in the van, the man asked if he could have the pizza. The man was kind and polite, but obviously disappointed that the box was empty. When I got back in the van, Monkey was concerned. "Why that man want pizza?" "Why he don't have money for food?" "We need to give him money... we need to go to the bank and get money so he can have food."
This little boy is going to be expensive, because he loves people, even strangers, deeply enough to share his resources. (If you remember, this is the little boy that sleeps with a handful of change because he loves money).
A few things about compassion:
- If I have compassion, but don't act on it, what I really have is pity. Pity does not make change happen.
- Compassion can be costly. Sometimes acting out of compassion means buying a meal for a stranger. Sometimes the "cost" of compassion is your time - maybe a listening ear for a friend who has lost a loved one.
- Compassion happens when we learn to love others enough to put their needs ahead of our own.
- Compassion can be taught. We teach our children in everything we do. By practicing compassion myself, I am teaching my children to treat other people with love and respect. (I might also be teaching someone else about compassion without realizing it).
Some practical ways to help children learn compassion:
1. Make a loaf's worth of peanut butter sandwiches and hand them out at the park in the summer.
2. Read stories about children who don't have as much resource as your own children. Make a plan to do something that will help them. Follow through with it.
3. Think of ways to earn money as a family so you can buy a flock of chickens for a village in need.
4. Be available for the people around you to help with childcare, construction projects, raking, baking - fill needs for others as you see them.
5. Let your children see it when other people are compassionate and generous of their time and resources in your life.
6. Visit friends and family in the hospital or nursing home.
7. Take meals to families with new babies, or who are recovering from surgeries, deaths in the family, loss of job, etc.
8. Teach stories about Jesus.
What ideas do you have about teaching compassion to your children? What does compassion mean to you?