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Spotlight on Character Values: Compassion

Every parent wants to raise a compassionate child and have that child grow into a
compassionate, caring adult. But unlike many important, well-defined academic concepts for young children, such as reading or math, parents are often unsure of how to help their little ones best develop and grow equally important “soft” skills, such as character values like compassion.

Christle Seal, Director of Educational Programs at The Malvern School, shares the experienced educator’s and mother’s perspective in our latest Character Values Q&A.

Q:        What does compassion mean to a child? 
A:         Believe it or not, research does indicate that signs of compassionate behavior begin in infancy. Think about when a young toddler sweetly pats a friend’s back when they are feeling sad. That’s compassion at work.

Q:        Is compassion a learned behavior?
A:         There is a foundation of compassion for others that we can further develop!

Q:        What’s the best way to teach children about compassion? 
A:         Parents are a child’s first teachers. They watch everything we say and do, and love to imitate those who are so important in their lives. Being a good role model is a wonderful place to start!

Compassion can also be nurtured by using story time books that have examples of positive social interactions. Use the story time to talk about the ways characters treat each other and how it makes us feel when a character is happy, sad or frustrated.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst is a useful story for older children as they begin to understand complex feelings of jealousy and frustration. For littler friends, Llama, Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney can be explored to build early coping and comprehension skills for irritation.

Q:        What are some simple ways parents or teachers can model compassion? 
A:         When your child does not treat someone respectfully, you can point out any harm that has been done and help your child make the other child feel better. When you see someone who is upset, talk about what the issue may be and offer to help together.

Q:        How do children learn about compassion at The Malvern School? 
A:         Children may have difficulty verbalizing the depth of their feelings. In order to grow their emotional intelligence, and focus on compassion, one of the things we do is use puppets and felt stories to talk through scenarios. If trouble arises among siblings or friends at home, parents can stay calm and offer solutions.

For younger children, short compassionate phrases work best! “Let’s use gentle hands,” while showing a child nice touches can help, as well as “Mine please” will help a child slow down and acknowledge their needs and feelings. When a child begins to identify their own needs and feelings, it helps them identify the same in others.

Q:        How should you expect young children to demonstrate compassion? 
A:         Every child develops at his/her own rate. Older infants and toddlers will often exhibit those outward behaviors that help adults know that they are showing compassion, such as patting backs and hugging friends. However, even before these behaviors are apparent, children may be feeling compassion we don’t even see. Feelings are complex for little people, and for big people, too. Stay close and navigate the complexities together!

Interested to learn more about developing character values? Continue reading with Spotlight on Character Values: Respect and Spotlight on Character Values: Patience.

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