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              1. Le Scoop
              2. Child Development
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              a group of kids sitting on the floor playing

              Parental Arts

              How to Raise a Compassionate Kid

              Psychologist Dale Atkins, Ph.D., co-author of The Kindness Advantage, shares the importance of kindness, empathy, and compassion, as well as tips for developing and nurturing these important traits.
              Written By
              Marnie Schwartz
              What exactly is compassion, and how is it different from traits like empathy or kindness?

              The way my coauthor and I look at it, kindness is the overarching concept, and empathy, compassion, and other fundamentals are different components of that. When we talk about compassion, we’re really talking about not only feeling and understanding what someone else’s experience is, which is empathy, but also how it really moves you to action. You may not be able to experience what another person experiences, but you can tap into your own humanity, and feel what you think they are feeling either because it’s similar to something you’ve felt before, or because you’re so open to the experiences of others that you’re touched. The natural response to that is to act in a kindly fashion, to reach for the humanity in the other person. We also talk about self-compassion… it’s incredibly important to take care of ourselves, recognize when we’re having a hard time, comfort ourselves, and recognize that we can get through difficult times. When parents do that and encourage children to do the same, the results are remarkable in terms of children’s mental and physical health. You see a rise in their compassion and desire to do kind acts and an increase in noticing where they can be helpful. We see this even with very young children, if we create opportunities for them to be helpful or encourage them to respond to someone else in a caring way.

              When we think about the traits we want our children to develop, why is compassion so important, both generally but also in this present moment in time?

              We are social beings, we are all connected, and we are part of a larger human family. We are supposed to be connected to and help each other... we’re born with that capacity. We’re actually hardwired to be kind. It’s remarkable that we naturally want to be helpers, even from a young age. The question then is, how do we keep it going? We have to nurture it. Compassion is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it will atrophy. If you don’t practice compassion, you won’t have it at your fingertips. Given opportunities, children can figure out remarkable ways to assist. Part of compassion is respect. It’s an eye-opening moment to talk with your children about what happens when people are not treating each other respectfully because of the color of their skin.

              How do children of different ages experience compassion?

              Children as young as three months old show a preference for helpers over hinderers. They have the wiring in place, while a two-year-old would exhibit the roots of it. Everything starts with the family. It’s where children see their first role models. They watch the way we talk to each other and make time for each other. As a child develops, the adults in that child’s life have a responsibility to nurture it in ways that are developmentally appropriate. With everyone locked down together, everyone can be doing their share. Kids of every age can be doing something, and learning that this is what we do because we’re a family and we are connected. The ways you solidify that connection gives you opportunities to help develop compassion and practice it.

              What are some of the most important things parents can do if they want to raise compassionate children?

              Treat them with kindness, engage with them in ways that are positive, and have fun together. Let them guide you when you do a project together. The message you’re sending when you do that is “you’re important and have something to contribute, and I’m listening to you.” Children who feel good about themselves are much more likely to want to be leaders, less likely to bully others, and more likely to be allies when they see other kids being bullied. They’re more likely to stand up for what’s right. And when they do kind acts they feel good about themselves. The person who receives kind acts also has these positive emotions and wants to do kind acts. It’s a continuum.

              Having positive role models in their parents or in the community is really important. We can find role models in books, too. But we also need to point out when role models are doing bad things and say, “in our family, that’s not what we think is right, we don’t tolerate that.” Talk about how so many people in the world are doing something right now because we have not been satisfied with the role models and how people have been treated.

              We have to intentionally be aware of the gentle, kind, tender acts that are all around us. Take the opportunity to slow down and engage with kids in ways that help them notice, like, “look at how those people are helping that man,” or “what do you think is going on over there, do you think they need our help?” When you’re reading at home with your kids, ask them questions like, “what would be the kind thing to do in that situation?” These kinds of conversations really enhance and nurture a child’s capacity to be compassionate.