We often wonder why we see so much violence in the news. Why do people hurt others? Why do people do things to property that eventually causes trouble for others? Could it be that those individuals have never learned to feel compassion?
When we feel compassion for others, we usually feel sympathy and concern, as well. It causes us to stop and think about the feelings of others. It follows, then, that if we can help children develop compassion, they will probably act in compassionate ways.
One way to develop compassion is to talk about hurt and pain. Caring for animals may lead to compassionate feelings. Guiding activities that help others is a third way to help children understand the feelings and cares of others.
What we say to children is very important. When we see someone hurting, a comment such as, “I know that person must hurt badly”, draws attention to suffering. Opposite type comments such as, “That person must be lazy and not want to work," keeps a child from feeling compassion. Watching selected news provides opportunities to talk about pain and suffering.
When a child learns to care for an animal, that child can learn to care about whether the animal is hungry, cold, scared, etc. Anytime a child can identify with feelings of another person or animal, that child is learning compassion. On the other hand, if a child is allowed to let a pet go hungry, be cold, etc., the child is learning not to be compassionate.
When families or groups do activities such as taking food to the sick or helping the needy, they are developing compassion in children. There are many worthwhile projects that can be done by children.
Many people are not able to recognize the feelings of others by what they say or do. Pointing out actions or words of others that indicate hurt will help the child become aware of others. When a child acts like a bully, it may well be because that child is hurting and taking feelings out on another. When a child puts another child down for an accomplishment, it may be because the child is hurting for a lack of attention. We are all guilty of often judging people’s actions only by their words when we should be looking a little deeper. If we can help children look deeper, they are many steps ahead in life.
The careful choice of words and activities we use with children cannot be overemphasized. Compassion is an attitude. Attitudes are often caught, instead of being taught. Although we can do and say certain things to help develop compassion, as in so many other areas, example is the most effective teacher.