Children are self-centred by nature. Self-interest and having their needs met are usually more important to them than caring for others. It is the responsibility of parents to teach children to be pleasant towards friends and adults and how to care about others.
You can do this by teaching them the following compassionate behaviour from an early age through instruction and by example:
Teach them to handle others gently and speak to them kindly.
Teach them to always help others, even when they don’t feel like doing it. This habit can start at home by expecting them to help with household chores.
Good manners and politeness show that we care for one another. This includes among others the magic words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, as well as generosity, for example sharing your sandwich and toys with friends. Teach them to always find a reason to thank someone – the cashier in the shop, the petrol pump attendant, or Mom who prepared their food.
Each person is unique and special. That is why one does not look down on people you don’t consider being ‘pretty’ or ‘clever’, have a different skin colour, or is disabled.
Encourage them to write a letter to friends who are ill or sad, or a welcoming note to a new classmate. If they aren’t yet able to write, let them draw a picture. Or write a note and let them write their name with it (if possible).
Teach them to talk about their emotions. A conscious understanding of their own emotions makes them aware that others can also be sad, lonely, afraid or happy and that their conduct could make someone else very happy or sad. Teach them to notice when a friend is sad, and to ask if he/she could do something to console.
Acknowledge your children’s needs. In this way you convey the message that you respect and understand how they feel. It also creates an awareness with them of others’ needs.
Teach them to notice others’ distress and to do something about it. A child who realises that it is a privilege to have a home, food and clothes, will be more aware of others who don’t enjoy these privileges. Ask them how they think you could help.
Teach them to be on the look-out for people who display compassionate behaviour towards them. Let them thank the other person for his/her caring (a friendly smile, someone who makes room for you on their seat, a hug when they feel sad or upset).
Teach them that negative behaviour hurts others and that it has bad consequences (for example no TV or not reading them a bedtime story). In contrast, positive behaviour shows that they care.
Set an example and be consequent. Your children will see and hear how you talk to and about others and how you act towards them. They must learn that there is no exception for unacceptable behaviour – even when they are tired or ill, or when it’s their birthday.
Praise them for compassionate behaviour towards family members, friends, or strangers. However, guard against exaggeration. If a child expects to be praised for every little thing, it will eventually be all about himself and the ultimate purpose, namely to consider other people’s needs and feelings, will fade away.
Finally: Children who are taught to care about others, will also not hurt or mistreat animals.
Compassion costs nothing, except giving of yourself. The smallest gesture can make a big difference in someone else’s life or even just brighten their day. If your child realises this, caring and reaching out will eventually become spontaneous.