Compassion. It’s just one of a host of emotional intelligence-related competencies, including empathy, social awareness, and relationship management. Compassion is critical. And when it’s taught early, compassion can help toddlers grow into caring, emotionally healthy teenagers and adults who thrive.
While compassion does come naturally to children in varying degrees and at various ages, you’ll want to start intentionally teaching this as early as possible.
The good news is that you can help your young child evolve on the journey of learning to genuinely care for others. Here are four ways to help your baby or toddler learn compassion:
In the earliest seasons of their lives, your children are learning behaviors almost exclusively from their caregivers. That being said, make an effort to model compassion frequently toward your child by acknowledging and caring about their feelings… I can see that made you sad when you dropped your ice cream. Sometimes I feel sad when I lose something too! I would be so happy to share my ice cream with you.
Likewise, acknowledge the feelings and situations of others. That little boy looks like he could use some help carrying all of those books. Let’s go give him some extra hands! Showing your child that you care for others – even strangers, in the right situation – helps them to begin to see others through the lens of compassion as well. When, as a parent, you are doing an act of kindness such as taking some food to someone in need, or donating items to a non-profit, involve your child and talk about what you are doing for other people.
Use toys to role play.
Chances are, your baby or toddler loves playing with a few beloved toys. Use your child’s toys to role play situations where you demonstrate compassion. Maybe a toy has been physically hurt and could use a band-aid. Or maybe your child’s toy characters are emotionally hurt and feeling sad or lonely and you can help your child find a way they can help. Role playing helps engage your children while instilling in them the importance of showing care and kindness for others.
Focus on positive media.
You might model compassion beautifully, but if your child is exposed to TV shows, books, and other content that show characters lacking in compassion, they’re going to pick up mixed messaging. To help your child receive the right messaging, look for content and toys that reward compassionate behavior.
Encourage your child to help out at home.
Finally, encourage your child to show kindness and compassion by helping out at home. Depending on their age group, they can help feed household pets, empty the dishwasher, pull weeds from the garden, set the table, or clean up their toys. Make sure these are tasks they can be successful at, so they can experience the internal reward of feeling helpful!
As you walk with your child on this journey, remember to be patient. Your little one might vacillate between demonstrating profound compassion and showing complete irrationality. That’s normal! Keep affirming them, teaching them to be kind, and modeling compassion. You and they will be glad you did later on!