As we watch devastation hit our neighbors in West, Texas and tornadoes in Granbury, Cleburne and Moore, Oklahoma over these past few weeks, we can’t help but feel sadness, compassion and a desire to do anything we can to help. I want to raise empathetic children whose hearts feel heavy when they see someone suffer and more than that, I want to raise children who will be people of action. So, how do we to do that? If I focus on a couple of things, it can’t help but steer them in that direction.
Start at home – be an example.
When they are young, words and touch are the first form of teaching we can do. Hugging a sibling when they fall or expressing “sorry” when they do something hurtful to someone is teaching compassion. At 3 years old, Wyatt is at an age he LOVES to be a helper and although sorting laundry takes twice as long, I hope to keep fostering this helping attitude and showing him my appreciation when he does small things like pick up toys, help his sister or just say a kind word to a friend who is having a hard time being dropped off at preschool. We can teach our children to look the other way when we see someone struggling or teach them to acknowledge those around them and lift them up.
I talk to Wyatt about why we are taking a friend a meal when they are sick, or explaining a toy drive for children who don’t have as much as he does. We went to a charity walk one Saturday morning and told him it was to help little kids who were sick, his response “okay, momma! where is the race? I am gonna run fast!” One day, though, I know he will understand it further. I want my kids to see me go to a Junior League event and understand why Mommy feels it is important to give back to the community. Children need to see us demonstrate daily acts of kindness(holding the door open for a stranger as we leave the store) and larger ones as well.
I think another important factor of teaching our children the gift of compassion and giving, is to teach them the humility to go with it. I appreciate when others give generously. I think there are some stories that should be told to inspire and give hope, but I also want the gift of kindness and giving to be enough for my children. They need to learn the silent acts mean just as much, if not more. You do not need public acknowledgement nor to tell someone about every good thing you do.
Show them the good in the world.
There is a Mister Rogers quote that went around Facebook when the Boston Marathon tragedy occurred. It said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” As my children are fairly little, right now I keep the news off when such things occur and we don’t talk about it to them. Truthfully, I wouldn’t know where to start but this quote really helped me out. Pointing out the good people in such circumstances is what the focus should be on and what we should try to model. There is a reason every little boy wants to be a fireman and policeman, beyond the cool uniforms and sirens. They are told they are the helpers. When we grow up we start to want to be the rock stars and the wealthy businessmen (still admirable) but so important that we keep them focused on modeling their behavior after people who have compassion and use their blessed circumstances for good.
At what age do you start talking to kids about these things? Did your kids ask questions about the latest tragedies and how did you handle it?