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Raising Compassionate Kids

February 9, 2012 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

How to teach children to be more caring and sensitive.

“She’s crazy.”

“She’s a cookoo head.”

“No one wants to play with her! Go home!”

Three sentences uttered by four-year-olds broke a mother’s heart as she dropped her little girl off at school.

Yes, you can say that “kids will be kids and this is what kids do.” You can tell the parents of this little girl that the other children will grow out of it, just ignore them and help your daughter find other friends.

But here’s the thing: these kids were mean. They spoke unkindly. And there is no place for meanness in the hearts of our children. It doesn’t matter if they are 4 or 14. We can expect more. We can do better.

And keep in mind: mean children grow up to become mean adults. They especially hurt the ones they love and then argue that everyone is being too sensitive. They destroy marriages and wound children, never taking responsibility for their actions.

I am often asked how we can help our children become more sensitive. There are too many incidents of bullied kids flooding the news. What is the key to raising compassionate kids?

1. How Do We Measure Success?

Let us begin by asking ourselves how we define being an ‘accomplished child.’ Is it good grades? Popularity? A super athlete? A talented musician?

Do we ever wonder about our child’s ability to feel for another? To be kind and sensitive?

If my child scores amazingly on his SAT’s or gets a straight A report card but then shoots verbal bullets at his sister while sitting at the dinner table, do I still define this child as a ‘success’?

Children who easily cause others to cry, act indifferently when they inflict pain, or refuse to interact with those deemed ‘lower’ than them are children who display a major character flaw. No matter how talented, athletic, smart or popular they may be, they are lacking. This means that I as a parent have work to do. I have not been successful in raising a child with soul.

Think. When was the last time your child really felt for another? Can you recall if your child recently showed a kindness or was sensitive to the needs of someone else?

I am not speaking about your child’s circle of friends or someone she is comfortable with and likes. I am speaking about feeling for someone she would usually overlook or not care less about.

2. Six Questions Every Parent Should Ask

Answer the questions below honestly to get an idea about your child’s sense of compassion. Don’t make excuses like he’s tired, he’s going through a hard time in school, it’s a stage, or no one’s nice to that weird kid. You are only allowing meanness to grow.

  1. How does my child play with other kids?
  2. Does my child react kindly when others get hurt or are left out?
  3. Does my child excuse or ignore the pain he inflicts on others?
  4. Does my child often put down or make fun of others?
  5. Is my child often involved in spats, quarrels, or conflicts?
  6. Is my child mean?

Related Article: Bully!

3. Open Your Child’s Eyes

Yes, we have children involved in charities like never before. There are marathons, bowl-a-thons, bike-a-thons, and bake sales all for great causes. We have international food tasting parties, Chinese auctions, drama productions, concerts, fashion shows and grand events that raise tremendous proceeds for people in need. And there may be months of planning and hard work that went into all this. But ‘all this’ is fun. There is no sense of sacrifice or connection to the person in need. There is no real impact on a child’s soul. Our children never truly see with their eyes and so their hearts remain closed.

I am not saying that we must expose our children to raw pain and haunting scenes of anguish. What I am saying is that we often mistakenly believe that our children have learned compassion when we have not yet really made a dent within. Children do not learn kindness by partying and putting on concerts.

What we must try to do now is to teach our children to open their eyes to the needs of others. It may not be easy to invite the girl to whom no one talks to your party, but this is how children learn sensitivity.

If you have a son who is great at sports, tell him that God blessed him with an awesome gift. Now it is up to him to use that gift to better the world.

How, you wonder?

Next recess, when your son is running out with all his friends to play a game of baseball, tell him to stop a second. Look around. See that boy over there who no one thinks about? Inside he is hoping that maybe today will be the day someone finally notices him. Perhaps today one boy will be kind enough to say five words that will change his life: “Would you like to play?”

And maybe that one boy will be your son.

How often do children pass up on opportunities of kindness just because they did not open their eyes to see the need around them?

We can teach our children that they can change the world through just one shared cookie, one invitation to play.

The child who is hungry and has no snack, the classmate who sits alone at lunch, the kid who never gets invited for sleepovers and pizza on a Saturday night-all children in need of thoughtfulness.

Too many children go through school with broken hearts and no one ever notices their pain. We can teach our children that they can change the world through just one smile, one hello, one shared cookie, one invitation to play.

You will find that as your child reaches out and brings light into the life of another, he is really kindling a light within himself.

4. Say “No” to Thoughtless Online Hurts

We live in a world where we can hurt others with ease. With just a push of a button or a few simple texts, a person’s world can collapse. I have spoken to children who have been crushed by nasty gossip spread online. They cannot face their classmates and feel painfully humiliated. Too often, our children give no thought to the effect of their fast-traveling words. They rarely see the devastating results of their careless rumors or biting one liners. Kids laugh carelessly totally unaware that their text is being shared in cyberspace over and over again.

It is time that we teach our children the consequences of their actions. Words that spread like wildfire over the internet cannot be taken back. Even compromising pictures are sometimes sent thoughtlessly. When you do not face a person as you hurt them, you do not begin to imagine their pain. You do not see their eyes fill with tears, or their cheeks turn hot and red in shame.

The Torah prohibits causing pain to all of God’s living creations – even to animals. If we are commanded to care for animals, how much more so must we become aware of we pain we inflict upon another human being?

5. Kindness Begins at Home

You have just returned from the supermarket. You walk into the room with six bags weighing heavily on each hand. Your son looks at you without moving.

“I’m starving” he says. “Supper’s not even ready yet!”

Now is your moment. Don’t lose it. Don’t mutter under your breath. Teach him to actually look at you and see how he can give a hand.

“Sweetie, do you see me carrying all these bags? Wouldn’t it be the right thing for you to come and help me now instead of complaining about supper?”

Rather than being angry, teach your son how to become more sensitive to those around him.

Many people are incredibly kind to their friends but easily overlook their family. They drop everything for others, give their time and endless energy when asked; but if their own spouses or children make the same request they somehow cannot find a way to give of themselves.

How painful it is for children to see siblings or parents being nice to everyone but them.

Children need to be taught about “family kindness.” Charity really does begin at home.

Let us try to teach our children to be sensitive and generous in both words and deeds. There are no acceptable circumstances that permit children to act unkindly. If we are real role models and treat the world around us with compassion despite our daily pressures and challenges, our children will understand the true meaning of growing kinder each day.


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