Can You Teach Compassion?

Compassion, empathy, altruism and kindness are positive qualities we intuitively want our children to imbibe. These qualities help a child be successful in life. The good news is that, according to research, these qualities can be deliberately fostered in families, schools and communities. We typically attach much importance to academic growth and often not so much to social and spiritual growth. Fortunately, at SJMS we have a Montessori environment that is conducive to learning and imbibing compassion. Maria Montessori designed her schools as a place for developmental needs of young children, guiding them along on their unique, individual paths, but also to nurture them to be peaceful, compassionate and empathetic. How? For children to learn kindness, we need to surround them with compassion and kindness. Nurturing environments are rich with acceptance, tolerance and empathy and we can build these environments in the every day places that children live in. Kindness in young children is demonstrated through cooperation, sharing and consoling others. Between the ages of 1 and 4, children grow emotionally in many ways and evolve their sense of autonomy and their gradual shift towards understanding the causes and consequences of their feelings. Some things you can also do to reinforce this:

• Permit children to experience a wide range of emotions and use a range of emotion words to help them talk about their experience • Be clear and consistent about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that go along with emotions. • Be open to a child’s offer of help and suggestions for comfort. Allow them to express their compassion. • Try to be calm when your emotions are triggered. Show your child how you can process their feelings and offer a rational explanation for your behaviors instead of demonstrating strong reactions.

A child in elementary school is now able to take the perspective of another person and come up with ideas to alleviate their distress. They are also ready to think and act more broadly on complex social issues such as homelessness, hunger or discrimination.

• Especially when a child hurts another, encourage them to imagine how he or she would feel in the victims place. • Talk about emotions, your own as well as the child’s. Naming emotion builds a feeling vocabulary. • Read books to explore both positive and negative examples of social interactions.

Perhaps the simplest and most profound way of teaching compassion is to encourage children to follow the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

- Mamta Singh SJMS Children's House 4 Teacher