Can you teach compassion and a caring spirit?
The simple answer is YES.
First, compassion is defined as “the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Sounds like a fancy idea, but it’s quite simple. Consider random acts of kindness and volunteering – we can make that accessible to our children. And it’s not just at the holidays when we can think of others. Tis the Season for Compassion – all the time.
Why it Matters
Research from the Greater Good Science Centers demonstrates:
- Compassion makes us feel good: Compassionate action (e.g., giving to charity) activates pleasure circuits in the brain, and compassion training programs, even very brief ones, strengthen brain circuits for pleasure and reward and lead to lasting increases in self-reported happiness.
- Being compassionate—tuning in to other people in a kind and loving manner—can reduce risk of heart disease by boosting the positive effects of the Vagus Nerve, which helps to slow our heart rate.
- One compassion training program has found that it makes people more resilient to stress; it lowers stress hormones in the blood and saliva and strengthens the immune response. Compassion training may also help us worry less and be more open to our negative emotions.
But really, Why it Matters by my son Henry, age 9 and 1 month:
Why should we teach kids to volunteer: “Because when they grow up they won’t care about others and have a bad life later on. If your mom didn’t teach you to care, and if I fell down, you would probably laugh.”
Favorite thing about volunteering (he volunteers with our family and his boy scout troop): “Helping people and I know that I am doing something good.”
Favorite volunteer activity: “Volunteering at the historical museum even though we don’t get a lot of people coming in to shop.”
Why should people care: “If no one cared about anybody else, the world would just be an uncomfortable place. People wouldn’t feel bad for you, wouldn’t help you, they probably wouldn’t say nice things to you at all. Think about all the poor people and those who live in Africa who don’t have shoes. It is so sad.”
Where to Start
Practice what you preach. Preach it, sister. But you have to do it in a fun, non-judgmental, compassionate way. Easier said than done, right? Really, just talk about compassion and care. Point out examples of ways to help others. Let your kids see you volunteering (or hear about your work). Let them know that random acts of kindness are appreciated and good.
Make it a part of family life. In my book, this is the most important piece. Let them see you caring for others. And then ask around about opportunities to give back- ask your school principal, teacher, church leader, anyone in the know. Call United Way’s 211 Helpline and ask for their Volunteer Center. They can help brainstorm age-appropriate activities and even set you up with volunteer experiences. Little ones can help bake cookies to deliver to a neighbor, they can draw pictures to take to the nursing home and visit with the residents: elementary kids can organize lemonade stands and donate the proceeds to the local children’s home (this occurred at our house), raise money for UNICEF (see picture of Henry at four –>), they can collect cans or coats to give to those in need: and teenagers have a whole host of opportunities – at times presented and planned through their school but again, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for families to connect and spend time together while giving back.
Further Reading: I would highly recommend The Compassion Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness if you want to explore this topic in greater detail.
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