By Sanober Bukhari
Teaching Kids Compassion Through Everyday Life
I put the car window up the moment the vehicle jolted to a halt; drowning out the chaos of blaring horns and persistent panhandlers. We were stuck in rush hour traffic. As the dust settled, I glanced about realizing we would be in the car for ages. I looked at my daughter, comfortable in her bright red car-seat having accepted our inevitable delay to get to Nana & Nani’s house. Our visit to Pakistan was coming to an end and I marveled at how quick my picky daughter had adjusted to the stark difference in environment as that of Toronto.
There was a knock on the window by my daughter’s side. I looked up to lock eyes with a little boy who couldn’t have been more than a couple of years older than my 4-year-old. His face covered in dust, his clothes tattered he peered into the car.
“Baji..kuch madad karo” (sister, help me out)
With the hardened response of a true Karachiite I instinctively raised my hand to my forehead as a gesture for him to leave.
“Maaf karo” (forgive me)
I was gripped with guilt. One more second and the enormity of child-poverty that loomed outside the four doors of my air-conditioned, chauffeur-driven car was about to suffocate me.
One more second and I wouldn’t be able to play dumb to the harsh reality that watched my daughter eat her snack as she playfully kicked her shiny Nike adorned feet. She glanced up at the boy gazing at her and responded with her signature ‘angry-frown’ face. Displeased, she turned her head away.
Be it ignoring the beggars on the streets of Karachi or briskly walking past the homeless in the hustle bustle of downtown Toronto, was I missing an opportunity to teach my child compassion? Were my actions showing her the exact opposite of what my heart felt? I realize she is young and probably hasn’t thought anything to the contrary as of yet, but what happens when we travel to Pakistan again when she’s a year older? Or to any other country where street begging has become a profession out of necessity; what happens when she learns to read the homeless person’s sign asking for help as we head towards the subway? As she gets older she will be piecing her perception of the world around her and to me that means teaching her the importance of compassion every step of the way; at each and any age.
Compassion is one of the greatest virtues of humankind. It allows us to forge a connection with those who are suffering, helps us act in ways to ease another’s pain and be deeply empathetic.
The seed of compassion is in each of us but if it is not nurtured from the beginning it will not flourish into adulthood.
Now when my daughter asks to open a new toy yet again, I let her know how very lucky she is to have so many when there are children who have none. Most days it doesn’t make a difference to her but on that one day when it makes her pause and ask me “why?” I know I am doing my job.
Let’s use every chance we can get to not only foster compassion in our little ones, but in ourselves as well. Here are some ways we can start.
Practise what you preach
Children learn best from observation. Show them what it means to be compassionate through your own actions. If your principle is not to give out money to panhandlers because of perpetuating a habit that will do more harm than good, for instance, then offer something else as a kind gesture; perhaps food or at the very least a smile wishing them a good day. Ignoring the homeless altogether conveys the message that it is something bad or shows your indifference. Thinking back to that little boy I wished I had engaged him in some way to make him laugh; brightened up his day for just one moment.
Use opportunities to talk to your children about those in need. If you walk by somebody sleeping on the street or see something on the news about child poverty ask your children their thoughts on it and explain what it means to be poor or without a home or family. Speak with kindness and respect. You may also want to go over your rules on safety and cautious interaction as kids will not be able to tell if the person is unwell or not.
Engage with your community
Volunteering at charitable organisations that provide interaction with the needy is the best way to show how compassion works. Encourage your kids to join you in collecting toys and food items to donate to various programs. Soon you will find they will want to initiate this on their own because children take things personally and they will want to help.
As parents we are constantly showering our kids with compassion. They know how it feels to be treated with love, kindness and respect when they are feeling down or unwell. Remind them of these feelings so they can understand the positive effects of their acts of compassion on others.
Adopt a pet
If you have the opportunity to get your child a pet, it is a wonderful way to teach empathy as the child gets more involved in taking care of the pet and grows attached to it. They learn to be responsible and understand the effects of their actions on a living being.
Read to your children
Reading stories to your children about kindness, empathy and unconditional love is a wonderful way to get them to think about ways to help and nurture their compassion.
Here are some recommendations: Plant a Kiss, Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness, The Invisible Boy, Other Books on Compassion
What are ways you teach your children about compassion? Share your stories with us!
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