‘Tis the Season!
Yes, we are all very consumed at this time of year…gift giving, family get-togethers, traveling…but have we stopped, even for a moment, to focus on the fundamental and ultimate meaning of this season? … Caring and compassion … As parents we try to demonstrate these characteristics for our children in hopes that they will develop them. Now there is research to show how developing compassion can affect our lives.
In an article written by Kristin Miller for ParentMap, Ms. Miller sites findings from multiple universities that report that “Compassionate feelings show up differently in brain activity; experiencing even one moment of compassion can affect behavior toward others; and compassionate thought patterns can be taught with a variety of techniques.” Additionally, compassionate and kind acts have been found to stimulate the areas of the brain that lead to feelings of pleasure, elevated mood and greater physical health and longevity.
“Children have an inborn capacity for compassion. Small in stature themselves, they naturally identify with stuffed animals, other kids, pets, and underdogs,” (Jane Meredith Adams). Developing compassion and empathy in our kids should be part of our daily interactions with them: It’s about how we guide them to solve conflicts and how we focus their understanding about how we think about others. Here are some ways to help you develop, what studies show, is our natural tendency to help and comfort others.
Research is clear that you, the parent, are the greatest influence in fostering your child's ability to empathize. What you do and say is critical to how your children develop empathy. Make every opportunity for your child to catch you in the act of kindness and compassion. If you don’t want your child calling other kids names or speaking to others disrespectfully, watch your tone and words. Children hear and see everything we do as adults even when they don’t appear to be listening. Sorry to add a car line reference here, but the attitudes and language that are sometimes displayed during car line are the last things your child hears from you before they come to school. If you are being rude to those around you, what do you think your child will think and possibly copy during their school day?
Learning to focus on commonalities between people can help develop compassion and empathy, too. “Increased compassion for one’s neighbor, for instance, can come from something as easy as encouraging yourself to think of him/her as a fan of the same local restaurant instead of as a member of a different ethnicity,” says professor David DeSteno (noted in The New York Times). Learning to classify our observations of one another in terms of how we are similar, as opposed to different, can lead to greater empathy.
Coach your children to pay attention to people’s facial expressions. This is the first step in learning how to understand another’s perspective. “We are more likely to reach out to other people in need when we are able to imagine how the world looks from some else’s point of view.” (Alfie Kohn, author of The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life) You can discourage your child from reacting meanly to others if you discuss peoples’ responses. If someone has been rude to you at a store, you might comment about how the person must be having a bad day. Involve your child in discussing what they think.
Avoid competition…work toward collaboration. “When children are pitted against one another in an effort to win at anything, they learn that other people are potential obstacles to their success,” says Kohn. Even in the seemingly innocent game of “Let’s see who can clean up fastest,” we set up competition. Encouraging siblings or students, to work together to get a job done, helps eliminate the rivalry.
The Dalai Lama seems to have known about the connection between compassion and emotional and physical success in life long before the research. He has said, “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.”
May this season bring all of you warm hearts and an eased mind. It is the best gift of all!