Building Compassion with Our Littlest Family Members
There is nothing quite like those early years with our littlest ones. Though completely exhausting, they are full of some of the sweetest moments imaginable. As my three-year-old is closing in on four (how is that possible?!), I find myself trying to soak up every adorable expression and mannerism. He is learning so much right now--and this includes how to see others with compassion. In my last post, I mentioned how I want my kids to grow up with the two greatest commandments embedded in them. How can we help our youngest kiddos learn to love God and love others at this stage?
Here are a few ways to get started with preschoolers and early elementary kids:
1) Cozy up, read together, and really get talking
A good read-aloud can be one of the most amazing tools in a parent’s toolbox. There are so many rich opportunities to talk about a character’s feelings, and, as children think about characters, they learn to understand others’ feelings and situations in real life. It’s as simple as asking your child, “Why do you think she’s sad?” or “Why is he angry?” As kids get a little older, questions can become more complex, such as, “Why did/didn’t that character help?” or “Why do you think he acted that way?” Never underestimate a good book--they are some of life’s greatest teaching tools!
2) Follow their lead...and lead them deeper
Little ones are always observing, questioning, and processing. Their questions and interests can be a great starting point for teaching compassion. A few years ago, some friends of ours told us they were going to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. We told the kids about it and prayed for them together. That was it--we didn’t do anything else. But something about it stuck with them. Our seven-year-old wanted to pray for them every night, and our four-year-old asked if he could give his money to help the kids there. (Cue warm mama heart!) Both our boys responded differently, but the responses were theirs--all we did was encourage them.
When kids respond, following their lead can be an awesome way to encourage their natural compassion. If they see someone asking for money and want to know why, talk about it and consider giving together. If they learn about a missionary from their church, ask them what they think and invite them to pray for the missionary with you. If they hear about a natural disaster and have questions about it, discuss how people were affected and pray or donate supplies. These are all opportunities to listen to our kids’ hearts, learn what is resonating with them, and help them take the next step.
3) Choose one way to make it stick
Sometimes kids need a little push to think compassionately. Seeking out a specific way to help others will make it “stick” with kids. As they learn that they can actually help others, they will more naturally notice the needs around them and recognize how they can help in the future. So pray about it, and then find an opportunity to give or serve as a family in your church or community.
Here are a few ideas:
Give to your local or church food pantry. Go shopping as a family and pick out some items to donate. Pray together for the people who will get your donations.
Churches often take collections at specific times of year. Just pick one--donate a school backpack with supplies, do an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, etc. Let this be a family project you can all enjoy.
Sponsor a child as a family (like with Compassion International). Pray for the child together and write letters to him or her.
This is all about creating a culture in your family. Each time you notice a need and take a moment to talk about it with your kids, the culture grows. Remember, for little ones, it’s not about having a deep revelation or even truly understanding the impact of what they’re doing. It’s about helping them see they can love others and let God’s love shine through them.