All parents dream that one day their children will accomplish great things. They may envision their now-babies growing up into future presidents, humanitarians, and Nobel Peace Prize winners. Parents do their best to meet the various needs of their children and support their academic growth, but it is also important to nourish social and emotional development in early childhood as well as physical and intellectual development. All of the professions listed above—as well as countless others—require a very important social skill that parents teach: compassion.
Compassion is one of many important things that are taught without a classroom. There are no textbooks on it, nor are social emotional activities given much space in school curriculums. Instead, children learn compassion by watching those around them. Much of social development in children is spurred by modeling, and parents are the first models they ever encounter. That is why young children spend so much time imitating Mommy and Daddy; they are learning how to act and behave. Teaching compassion is therefore as simple as showing it to others. There are countless ways parents demonstrate this behavior and provide the framework for compassion in their children! What are some specific examples? Here are different ways children learn compassion from Dr. Alice Honig’s The Best for Babies:
- Being Polite: Parents who say please and thank you demonstrate respect for others. Respect is the basis for many important social skills, from team work to self-confidence. When children see parents respecting people in this way, they are able to recognize that all people are equally deserving of their thanks and acknowledgement, which builds compassion towards others.
- Helping Out: When parents respond to a child’s cries, they demonstrate compassion. Whether it’s providing a Band-Aid for a scraped knee or helping a child feel better when his favorite toy breaks, showing that others can be comforted is vital to teaching this skill. These acts of kindness—whether shown to one’s own child, a niece, or a full grown adult—show children how to understand empathy and how to help someone who is upset.
- Acknowledging Compassion in Others: It is no secret that children love to be praised. Recognizing children’s successes helps reinforce good behavior. This is as true for compassion as it is for mathematics. When compassionate actions are recognized, children are able to feel good about themselves and will want to pass that good feeling onto others. This recognition can be as overt as giving a child a sticker for helping someone clean up or as simple as saying “I saw you give Jessie a hug when she was sad. That was so nice.” Reinforcement is a powerful thing, and, in this case, it models compassion as well as praises it.
Parents start modeling compassion from day one, which is why teaching it is so easy. Simply demonstrating respect, kindness, and empathy is all it takes to nurture children and let their own compassion grow.