Nurturing Compassion in Children

Each child has her own personality. (That is so clearly seen in a classroom of twenty children!) But as a seasoned teacher of 4 and 5 year olds, I believe that regardless of a child’s innate personality traits, all children can be helped to become caring, compassionate people. While it is true that some children seem to care about others more naturally and other children need more direct instruction, helping children recognize and respect another person’s feelings is an important skill set that contributes to success with peers and ultimately success in school.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to help foster compassion for others in your child.

  • Share your feelings with your child. This is important for three reasons. First, by sharing your feelings, you become a role model that shows your child how to do that herself. In other words, you let your child know that you value feelings. Second, you help your child learn about a wide variety of feelings and help her understand that feelings are important. Third, you provide opportunities for your child to respond to you based on the feelings you share.
  • Encourage your child to talk about her feelings. Children often need help understanding how they are feeling and putting their feelings into words. Colorful emotions worksheets can provide a concrete opportunity to discuss feelings with your child.
  • Direct you child to behave in a compassionate way if she does not do this instinctively. Watch your child as she interacts with others. If she seems oblivious to another child’s feelings of sadness, disappointment or fear, talk to your child immediately about how the other child may be feeling. Find a private place to talk and discuss ways that your child can be helpful or compassionate. Give her specific suggestions to help her respond kindly to others. For example, if another child is crying, perhaps she could get him a tissue. Or if another child bumped his foot, perhaps she could get him an ice pack.  Address the issue as soon as possible, so that your child can observe another person’s feelings and learn to react appropriately.
  • Read books with your child that focus on feelings. It is often easier for children to talk about feelings when the discussion revolves around a fictional character, rather than themselves or someone they know. Also, you can help your child discuss his own feelings by asking her if she has ever felt the way some of the characters in the book appear to feel. I recommend the following books that are appealing to children and provide springboards for discussions:
    1. On Monday When It Rained by Cherryl Kachenmeister
    2. Feelings by Aliki
    3. Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis
    4. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
    5. My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
    6. The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
    7. Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ed Emberley
  • Play a game to hone your child’s ability to recognize feelings. Look in books or watch television shows. Ask your child to “read a person’s face and body language” to tell you how that person is feeling. With practice, your child will become more adept at accurately understanding how others feel. And by calling attention to this skill, you child will, at the least, gain the understanding that recognizing and acknowledging other people’s feelings is important.

 

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