real life

"Babies aren’t born racist or homophobic or elitist."

How do you teach your kids to be kind?

The world, both online and off, can be a very unkind and unpleasant place. Even as adults we find ourselves ill equipped to deal with both the awfulness and unnecessary callousness of it all. Unfortunately, if we’ve gotten this far, past childhood, through adolescence and we still have little compassion, then it’s probably fair to say we missed out on the fundamentals when we were younger.

Many of our current politicians are a shining example of what it looks like to lack compassion. It would appear that many of them aren’t aware what it means to ‘not judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’. Probably because most have come from very white, very privileged backgrounds and have never had to venture outside their own lives for more than a well documented media opportunity. They don’t know what it is to worry about how they will feed their family next week or pay the rent. Or contemplate exactly what they would be capable of doing if their own children were facing probable death if they remained in a violent, war-torn country.

Babies however, aren’t born knowing the difference. They aren’t born racist or homophobic or elitist. They are however, born hungry. At first, hungry for sustenance but as they grow, they are simply hungry for love, encouragement and information.

The definition of compassion is “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion isn’t automatically inbuilt in all of us but it can be taught and understood. We, as parents, have a duty to teach our children that we are all born equal and not one of us are more worthy than the other. And we should always do whatever we can do, when possible, to help our fellow man.

As parents, we an teach our children compassion in the following ways:

1. Be a role model

Practice what you preach.

Total cliché but here it is. Practice what you preach. Don’t tell your child to be courteous, kind and look out for his classmate if you’re being a total pretentious twat to the waiter in the coffee shop all because you’ve had to wait a few extra minutes for your latte. ALWAYS be nice. ALWAYS Be polite. Your children will mimic and imitate your behavior. Make sure they have something of quality to model themselves on.

2. Volunteer

I’m not saying you have to be at the local Bunnings offloading sausages every Sunday on behalf of the school but I am saying that if your children see you actively turning up to the school working bee, or helping out on Christmas Day, feeding the homeless, then they are going to understand how good it feels to help out, expecting absolutely nothing in return.

To see and understand how bloody lucky they are and that it should be second nature to want to help out those less fortunate than themselves.

3. Say thank you

Manners are a lost art. Well that’s what my 80 year old Aunt tells me. I have made a concerted effort to make sure my children say thank you when they receive ANYTHING. From their breakfast every morning to their teacher every afternoon before they leave the classroom, they need to acknowledge, as we do as adults, that someone has done something for them.

4. Own an animal

Owning a pet can teach your child how it feel to care about something else.

Owning a pet teaches a child many things. Mostly, it teaches them about caring about something that isn’t themselves. Because let’s face it, kids are fairly self-involved. A pet however is cute and requests nothing in return other than a pet and a cuddle. Oh, and some food. Sadly, they eventually also teach our children about the devastation of loss and death. It’s not pleasant, but it I would suggest, is almost a necessary part of growing up.

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 5. Encourage open emotions

You can’t understand compassion if you aren’t’ allowed to be free with your own emotions. Encourage your child to cry if something is upsetting them. Just as important, make sure they are free to be jubilant and over the top when something amazing happens. We are, as a society, always trying to keep a lid on our emotions, lest we look a bit crazy. Seriously though, life is a series of the great and the truly awful. If as kids we get a handle on how to express these emotions, we’ll be better equipped to help out others.

 6. Walk a mile in their shoes

Obviously not literally, it’s hardly possible. But I guess the thing is, we all often can only associate with what is affecting our own lives, at that precise moment in time. To think outside of this isn’t our natural default. Have the conversation. The topical discussion about asylum seekers. Why they have risked their lives to reach our Country’s shores. Discuss education, health. Wealth. Not in such a way as to bore or scare, but in a way that they’ll understand that we all, despite wealth or privilege, should always be entitled to feel safe.

7. Talk about bullies

I think all kids know about bullies. They know about them in an abstract way a lot of the time though. Until it actually happens to them, they don’t understand. Bullies are often in need of a big hug. Well, that’s my belief. As parents we MUST implore how bad it is to be a bully or even be on the fringe of bullying behavior. How that even if they see it happening and don’t intervene, that they are no better than the bully.

8. Learn that there are no differences

There is no difference.

Our children, starting now, need to understand that they won’t meet someone who is black or Asian or gay. That they should stop describing people by their gender or ethnicity. That they simply need to refer to the person by their given name. That way, when two people of the same sex marry in 15 years time, it won’t only not be a big deal, it won’t even take a second of their thoughts. It will simply be two friends in love that are getting married. And this is how it should be.

I guess the thing to remember is that compassion and empathy, even when displayed openly at home, can take years to develop naturally. The key is to not make it a thing that children are forced to adopt but more, just simply, the only way they know.

Oh and if I can give one tip, go home each day and tell your child that you love them. I KNOW this sounds naff and I guess, obvious. But if you don’t, the busier you get, it might be the one thing that gets missed each day. Above all, love and acceptance should be what makes our world go around. If we can instill this in our children, we’ve already won half the battle.

And mostly…

Be kind. For everyone you know is fighting a hard battle – Plato

Do you think parents need to make a concerted effort to teach kids compassion? How do you teach your child compassion?

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