A Dash of Compassion

We went to the school art fair last night. Now, I have to admit, this is not one of my favorite school activities. I'm up at school enough that usually by the time the art fair rolls around, I've seen all the artwork on the wall already. Neither of my girls is in chorus or band yet so we don't have a performance to watch. And last night we needed to rush from the art fair to soccer practice.

But last night was different. My youngest came home from school yesterday, raving about these owls her class had made in art class. She was excited about her own owl, but she was most excited about another little boy in her class and the owl he had made. She was telling me how he had done an "awesome" job and she couldn't wait to show it to me.

To be honest, I was kind of half-listening as I cooked dinner, but then she said something that made me look up and pay attention. She told me the little boy who had made the awesome owl had disabilities and someone else was making fun of his owl. She said, "I told the teacher, and he got in big trouble."

Now, I don't want to raise tattle-tales, but in that moment I was so proud of my daughter. In weeks past, she has come home and complained a bit about the extra attention this little boy gets and how he can be a disruption in class. However, when another child was going out of their way to belittle this little boy, my youngest stood up and said "That's wrong."

Last night, she was as proud of this little boy's owl as she was of her own. She recognized that creating that owl was a bigger challenge for him than it was for anyone else in her class. His owl wasn't the best one hanging on the wall. As a matter of fact, it wasn't cut out that well and the painting wasn't precise, but my daughter recognized that for this little boy, it was a big accomplishment. She was excited for him and had become his champion.

This is not my child who is known for her compassion. She's usually more than willing to look out for herself. She's just as likely to push you out of her way as she is to stop and lend you a hand. We've been working hard to get her to look outside herself and think of others first. Last night, we discovered that all of that work is making a difference.

Teaching compassion isn't easy. It seems that some kids are built with an innate sense of compassion while others have to be taught the quality over and over. Humans are born selfish. It's our nature to look out for our own interests, but God calls on us to have compassion for others and put them first. Philippians 1:3-4 says "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

When we teach our children to put others before themselves, we teach them to become more like Christ. And we teach them to be champions for others who may not be able to stand up for themselves.

  • Encourage your kids to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. When you see your child do something selfish, take a minute to talk with your child about how they would feel if someone had done that to them. Remind them of Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
  • Illustrate walking in someone else's shoes for your child. Give them a pair of your shoes, then have them walk around the house or take them outside and have them try to run. They will most likely stumble and trip. Talk about how hard it is to walk in shoes that don't fit you. Remind them that they need to withhold judgment on another's behavior because we have no idea what types of challenges they may be facing or how we would react if we were in the same situation.
  • When something another child is doing bothers your child, help your child to see the reasons another child may do those things. Understanding someone's motivations or the obstacles they face may go a long way toward allowing your child to see past her own frustrations to offer some compassion to the other child.

Teaching compassion to our children is an ongoing job. It's not a lesson their selfish nature will allow them to learn in one sitting. Keep encouraging your child to put others' interests before their own and to understand others' circumstances and some night they will surprise you with their excitement for the accomplishments of others. Maybe you'll get to join in the excitement about someone else's beautiful owl, too.

How do you teach your child about compassion? Leave a comment or join us on Facebook or Twitter to join the conversation.