The following information is being borrowed from Dyhan Summers, a psychotherapist here in Delhi, who works with expats – singles, married couples, families and children.
She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wanted to share it with you because – no matter your location – I feel it is one of a parents MOST important jobs, to teach your children compassion. Compassion is not a character trait that can be easily learned once you reach adulthood. It needs to be fostered, grown and encouraged while your children are still molding into what you’d like to see them become ::
Talking With Kids About Poverty
A. Actions speak louder than words
1. Be clear within yourself about your own attitudes, feelings and what action, if any, you want to take regarding poverty in India.
2. Communicate your ideas simply and clearly to your children, i.e. “I don’t want to give money, but maybe we can bring food along next time to give out.”
3. This is no different than discussing any other sensitive issue with your children. It must be age-appropriate and put in a way they can understand.
B. Use real life incidents of street beggars to explore your child’s feelings and thoughts about the poor
1. Elicit a 2 way conversation, don’t ask “yes” or “no” questions. For example, if street children are begging, ask your child what feelings come up for him or her when they see that and offer your own as well
2. You don’t have to have all of the answers, simply raising the issue and giving your child a chance to express his/her feelings is often sufficient
3. Children need to be validated for the feelings they have, it is important to normalize their feelings
C. Handling anger and negative emotions
1. sometimes older children will react with anger, i.e. “that kid is disgusting”. Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids about the causes of poverty
2. always make sure your children understand that though these children might look and act differently from them, they are still human beings like us and are to be respected
3. sometimes making eye contact with a disadvantaged person is an affirmation of their humanity
4 teach your children that is never ok to make fun of disadvantaged children
D. Taking action as a family
1. Children will often want to do something, i.e. “why can’t we bring that little girl home with us?” use this as an opportunity to discuss possibly volunteering together as a family
2. Explain that volunteering can help a great number of children and is a way to ensure that they really get help
3. Discuss possibility of children putting together a package of toys and clothes they no longer use for less fortunate children
Teaching Children Compassion
A. Definition of compassion. The desire to assuage the feelings of suffering in others. It is positive, not pity and is a combination of feeling and action
B. Compassion vs competition; so much of a child’s life revolves around competition in school, sports and video games. Competition stresses “me” and often works against compassion
C. teaching compassion begins at home, communicate the benefits of compassion, how it makes us feel better about ourselves and also helps others
D. be a positive role model for your children. believe and practice compassion as a family with yourself and other family members
E. talk about famous heroes – Mahatma Gandhi, MLK, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, etc. Read kids appropriate biographies.
F. use stories to bring out compassionate action
SO … what do you DO to teach compassion?
Some of my thoughts on how to easily teach and model compassion.
1. Sign up to make dinner for a new neighbor, or someone who is ill or has just had a baby. Instead of simply signing up and delivering a meal, take an extra step and involve your children. Have them color a note to attach to the meal, or pick a favorite poem or song to write out for the recipient.
2. Talk often about how we can be kind, generous, affectionate and loving to each other. I want for my children to have the “awwww” response when they see an injured animal or a sad friend. I want for them to have empathy and feel the best way is to consistently talk about feelings and how to help others.
3. Sponsor a child, donate to a local (or far away) charity or collect items from your home to drop off at a battered womans shelter, or home for homeless children.
4. Sponsor a collection drive amongst your friends. Instead of gathering simply for coffee and fruit snacks, ask participants to BRING something that can then be gifted to others.
5. Enlist the help of a savings bank like Preschool Money Manager to help children save, spend AND share their money.
6. Visit the Kids Can Make a Difference website for some more amazing and quite simple ideas!