As a parent, it’s fun to dream about your child growing up to be the president of the United States, the star quarterback of your favorite football team, or an alumnus of your college or university. Yet, most of us will be thrilled if our children simply grow up to be good, caring people.
Raising compassionate children sounds simple enough; if you are caring, you hope that it will rub off on your little ones. But research indicates that while children may be wired for good, whether altruistic tendencies get nurtured as they grow up is largely dependent on their interactions with people like parents, teachers and friends.
Clearly being intentional about nurturing compassion in children is important, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Below are a few ways to nurture compassion and empathy in the children in your life.
Modeling is an effective way to instill specific traits, including kindness and caring, in young children. When you treat your child and others in a kind and caring way, your child learns from your example. Young children are constantly watching the adults in their lives for cues on how to behave and interact with others. In this case, actions often speak louder than words.
You can take modeling one step further by volunteering together. Your child will experience firsthand how good it feels to help others, and it will give you an opportunity to talk about caring and generosity. We regularly host “giving” events at Primrose that engage children and families in charitable efforts, such as donating books to local hospitals or completing chores at home to purchase food donations.
Make it Routine
Your child’s daily routine is a great opportunity for her to practice concepts like caring and kindness. At Primrose, lessons and activities that help children develop important character traits are part of the daily classroom experience. Through books, songs, role playing and more, we break down general concepts, such as compassion, in a way that is age-appropriate and understandable for children.
At home, consider making it a dinnertime ritual to share one caring gesture each family member did or received that day, or have each person go around the table and say something nice about a family member or friend. Also, integrate manners and kind words and actions into daily routines. Model manners at the dinner table, hold the door open for the person behind you, say please and thank you and encourage children to sign and/or say the same, and always speak kindly and respectfully to other family members around the house.
Empathy is an important part of learning to care for others. For children, understanding how others feel starts with understanding their own feelings. When your child is mad, sad, happy or frightened, help him identify these emotions and label them.
Read and Discuss
One of our favorite ways to introduce more abstract concepts like feelings or character traits at Primrose is through reading. Our teachers read books that include examples of characters showing kindness and provide plenty of discussion and guidance to help children apply the concept of caring to their own lives and relationships.
To encourage kindness with your little one, consider reading some of the following books that explore the theme of caring.
I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri (Ages 0-3)
I Can Share by Karen Katz (Ages 0-3)
When I Care About Others by Cornelia Maude Spelman (Ages 3+)
Hands Are Not for Hitting by Martine Agassi (Ages 3+)
A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams (Ages 3+)
While reading together, take the learning one step further by helping your child think critically about what’s happening in the book. Ask your child open-ended questions as the story unfolds. Examples include: