I'm often asked how to nurture values in a child from the very beginning stages of life. Because the right brain is the empathy-loving emotional brain, and our type of learning blossoms with sensitivity and kindness, this is certainly a part of what we teach.
Our TweedleWink school motto is "Relationships before results" because the right brain opens and flourishes in a loving relationship. Simply put, children can absorb vast amounts of information when they feel happy and respected. But we cannot teach this from our classroom alone.
Compassion begins with you.
Each one of us, as parents and teachers, have to teach morals and values through what we do, how we treat others, as well as what and how we say every single thing to our children.
Do you want your child to be compassionate? Then, you need to ask yourself: How compassionate am I?
This is such an important question. Let me share a story with you.
One day in class, 4-year-old Michael slipped and hit his head on a low bookshelf. It was amazing to me to see the number of children who gathered around him to offer him comfort, a towel, a toy, a hug... Children are naturally compassionate creatures and he was surrounded by much comfort.
However in another part of the room, 5-year-old Jeremy avoided the scene and kept playing, choosing toys that were finally made available by the other children's absence. He didn't seem to care about his friend. As the compassion of the others had touched my heart, his aloofness also made an imprint.
I knew Jeremy well. He had been in our preschool about two years by that time. What impressed me was how his tender heart had changed over time due to how he was raised at home. Seeing how indifferent he was to his friend's suffering showed how it had influenced his behaviors and view of others.
His parents had a national marketing firm and travelled often, leaving him in the care of others. When he had just joined us, at about three years of age, his parents had dropped him off at school before taking flights away for the week. When they said goodbye to him, he sobbed and wouldn't let go of his mother's coat. She became impatient and angry. "Jeremy, we went through this before," she explained. "Daddy and I have work to do in Los Angeles. Stop crying. Don't be a cry baby." She unclasped his hands from her coat and left.
The teachers took turns holding him and trying to cheer him up that day, but of course, we were not acceptable substitutes for his mother.
His mother, with best intentions, was trying to prepare him for a harsh world. However, loving-and-kind treatment would have been a better approach. The world will always be harsh. We can console our children and advise them as to how to navigate through it. We can be the beacon of hope and love and protection for them. But if we are also the source of their battering, then we handicap them from the start.
We must choose love.
Teaching children how to brighten their tiny corners of the world with love and joy is key to making the world a better place. To teach children how to be loving and kind, we must model it ourselves. We can teach sensitivity through respect, carefulness, gentleness, and dignity.
Here are some examples that parents have shared in our parenting support groups.
Teach respect. Four-year-old Geena loved to choose her own clothes each morning for school. On one cold winter morning, she chose a summer dress. Lisa, her mother, kindly reminded her, "Geena, there's snow outside. Are you sure you want to wear that?" Geena reacted by crying. Lisa crouched down to meet her at eye-level. "Geena," Lisa began, "I can see that you are sad. You really want to wear this dress. Can you figure out a way to wear it and still stay warm in winter?" Geena sniffled and thought for a moment. She chose a long shirt and a pair of pants to wear under the dress, with a sweater on top for a new look. Her mother smiled and helped her get ready.
Teach carefulness. Carol brought her young children into gift shops where fine crystal or porcelain were displayed. She did this to help them practice their "careful" skills. "Step slowly and gently," she reminded them. They tiptoed through the shops, keeping their hands behind their back so that they could look at the pretty things without touching. When done, she brought them to a noisy park where they could play. "Why do you do this?" one of our parents asked her. "The gift shop experiences teach the children respect for delicate objects, as well as honoring the property of others," she replied. "Believe it or not, it carries through to how they treat each other."
Teach gentleness. Susan's toddler son, Lucas, was a chunky, loving boy. But, when he hugged his nursery playmates, he would squeeze too hard and hurt them. Susan made up a game to teach him the difference between "gentle" and "hard." She gathered teddy bears and showed him a word card that depicted "gentle." "Gentle," she said as she gave a light squeeze to a little bear. Next, she gave Lucas a light hug. Then, she presented the "hard" card, giving a teddy bear a rough, tight hug. The expression on her face was painful. "Ouch!" she sighed. "I'm sorry," she apologized to the bear. She gave the bears to Lucas. One by one, he gave them either a "hard" or a "gentle" hug, depending upon the card she raised. He soon learned to give only gentle hugs to his friends.
Teach dignity. Two-year-old Joseph was angry. He wanted to put potato chips into the DVD player. When Lisa, his mother, placed it up high on the shelf, out of reach, he lost control of his temper. He started to hit Lisa. She tried to distract him with another toy. When he did not get the DVD player back, he spit into his mother's face. Lisa immediately stopped distracting him. She looked at him, squarely in the eyes, and used a low tone of voice. "Spitting hurts my feelings," she said firmly, but gently. "You may not hurt mommy like that." She showed him a sad face, took his potato chips, put him in his "time out spot" and went to wipe her face. While she was at the bathroom sink, she felt little hands hugging her from behind. She turned around and knelt down. He gave her an "I'm sorry" sign language signal she had taught him earlier. They shared a heart-to-heart hug.
The most compassionate children have these very important influences in their lives.
Share your faith.
Treat others with respect.
Compassion begins with you.