Raising Compassionate Kids
By Joe Cavanaugh, Founder & CEO
When my daughter Tess was five years old, we moved into a new neighborhood. There are many kids in the area that Tess got to know. One day at the park, I watched Tess with two older girls who were walking ahead of her, excluding her in a not so kind way.
When Tess and I came back to our house, I said to her,
I saw what was going on out there. How do you feel?
Not good, she answered.
Were they leaving you out and being mean to you? I asked.
Yes, she sadly said.
Good, I answered…
She stood there, staring at me perplexed.
I then said to her,
Tess, I never want you to forget the way that you feel right now. I want you to remember the way that you feel, and never, ever make anyone else feel that way.
We live in a world that puts many protective barriers around our children. We are so afraid of them being hurt that we try to shield them from anything that could cause them pain. Without even realizing it, instead of protecting them, sometimes we are actually robbing them of essential coping skills and life experiences. They need to experience heartache and decide to be better people because of it. These tough experiences are what teach them empathy and compassion.
As parents, we need to be the ones to explain to our children that sometimes, people can be mean. Sometimes people can hurt us with their words or their actions, but we have the power to choose how we respond to those actions. We can let negative experiences turn us into negative people who also hurt others, or we can learn from those experiences. We can use those interactions for good. We can take the time to really notice how they made us feel, and we can decide right then and there that we don’t ever want to be responsible for making anyone else feel that way. We have to be the ones to teach our children how those experiences can shape who we are and what kind of people we want to be.
As a dad, watching Tess be hurt by the older girls that day was not so pleasant. I wanted to swoop in and defend her. I wanted to fix the situation and keep her from hurting. But, no matter how much protecting we do, our children will inevitably be hurt someday. We must be the people in their lives who encourage them to slow down, reflect, notice how a situation makes them feel and ask themselves what they can learn from it. One of our critical roles as a parent is to equip our children with the valuable character lessons and self-awareness that will help them to be loving, compassionate and courageous leaders in the future.