Conversations in Compassion

A key step in nurturing compassion in children is to help them act more empathetically and sympathetically in their everyday lives. Your approach is two-pronged: Help your children articulate their own emotions as well as put themselves in the other person's shoes to see a different viewpoint. Both actions enhance their ability to understand and be aware of other people's feelings.


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Below, we've outlined how you might help your children deal with three potential situations in a way that enhances their compassion. Even if the details aren't specifically pertinent to your life, you can apply the themes and talking points to similar scenarios.

The situation: Your child tells you that his friends use the word "retard."

Your Strategy: First, ask your child if he understands what this word means, as well as its connotations. He may not be fully aware of how hurtful it can be.

Then explain that the word spreads hatred and prejudice. You might start with something like, "That word puts someone down and says that they are stupid. How do you think someone feels when they are categorized in that way?"

Listen to how your child responds, and discuss ways he might help stop his friends from using the word. You can even work out specific scripts, such as: "Hey, you know what? That word is really mean. Let's not use it." Your child can also respond by describing the situation differently. For example, if your child's friends say something like, "That class was so retarded," he can respond with: "I thought that class was boring, too."

The situation: Both of your kids try out for the school play. One gets a part, one doesn't.

Your Strategy: Talk to each of your children individually. 

For the child who landed the part: First say how proud you are of her, then talk about her sibling's emotions. Ask questions such as: "How do you think she feels?" (Sad, disappointed, self-doubting?) "What kinds of situations or behavior do you think might upset her more?" (Incessantly talking about the play?)

Then brainstorm what the child could do to make the sibling who didn't get a part feel better. One approach: Acknowledge the sibling's feelings by saying, "I'm sorry you didn't get the part." Then make an extra effort to celebrate other good things that are going on and not talk too much about the play.

For the child who didn't get a part: Empathize, then be a sounding board. Try starting with, "I know how hard you worked for that audition, I'm sorry you didn't get the part. How are you feeling?" She may be worried about what the kids at school are thinking or become discouraged and down; address her responses accordingly.

For example, if she's concerned about kids making rude comments, role-play so she can have a response ready if someone does say something upsetting. This will help her feel some control over the situation.

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