10 Ways to Teach Your Child Compassion
By Judi Murphy
Most children who have spent any length of time in children's church or Sunday School can probably retell the story of the Good Samaritan. But can they apply that lesson to their lives? Caring for others is a cornerstone teaching of Jesus, and in the Old Testament, much of the Law was built around the concept of caring for the weaker members of society (Matthew 22:37-40, Matthew 25:31-46, Galatians 5:14). Compassion must be more than just an inspirational Bible story. It also needs to be a practical and applicable concept kids can carry out day to day. It is a misconception that compassionate people are just born that way, tender-hearted and caring for others. It can and should be taught, and it's never too early to start. These 10 ideas are meant as a starting point, and will likely spark your own creative ideas for teaching compassion to kids.
Someone Else's Shoes
When children encounter situations where compassion is called for, discuss with them what it would be like to be in the place of the person in need of compassion. Questions to ask might include: How would you feel if you were them? What do you think you would need if you were them? Who would help you in that situation? What help would they give you?
Charles Sheldon's novel "In His Steps" made WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) a catchy acronym for bracelets and T-shirts, but it's an important question. Encourage kids to ask that question of themselves when deciding how to treat people or respond to how they have been treated by others. Help them find examples of how Jesus treated others and of His teachings about how we should treat everyone.
Discover Compassionate People
Research and discover together others who are known for compassion, such as Mother Teresa, Mark and Hulda Buntain, Lillian Trasher, Damien the Leper, Clara Barton, Evangeline Booth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and George Washington Carver, among others whose compassion changed lives and in some cases, changed the world.
Volunteering together as a family not only teaches about compassion, but it allows you to demonstrate it in front of your child. It also has the added benefit of family bonding time. Keep in mind your child's particular interests and abilities and pick a volunteer group that would be a good fit. Homeless shelters, food banks, urban community gardens, neighborhood clean-up groups, and senior citizen homes are all great places to volunteer as a family. Use travel time to discuss who the people are who benefit from the organization you are working with, and what the organization does to help them. (Keep in mind some organizations have age restrictions.)
Sponsor a Child
Place your sponsor child's picture in prominent place and pray together frequently for him or her. Find the sponsor child's country on a map and use the Internet to learn more about the place where they live. Many child sponsorship programs allow you to correspond with the sponsor child. Involve your child in the process by encouraging them to draw pictures or write letter to the sponsor child. Encourage your child to do chores to earn money and to give a portion of their earnings towards the monthly sponsorship fees.
Stand Up for Others
Bullying is the focus of much media attention these days. Talk with your child about what he or she sees happening in school. Discuss an action plan for how to respond if they see bullying occur, with special emphasis on how to bring comfort and courage to the one being bullied. Use the examples of other compassionate people who stood up for others.
Your church likely has a list of people who are homebound and would welcome a visit. Bring a meal or treat and your kids with you to say hello. Maybe even bring a kid-friendly game you can play together, or crayons and paper so your child can draw a picture for them while you visit.
Many are reluctant to give cash to a man or woman begging on the street. Instead, be prepared with pre-bagged compassion bags that you can keep in your car. Work together with your kids to put together a sack with ready-to-eat soups or stews, crackers, water or juice bottles, and even hygiene products. Maybe even have your child include a drawing. The next time you are approached at a stop light, rather than avoiding eye contact, hand out your already made bag, and offer a smile and word of encouragement.
Love Your Actual Neighbor
Be intentional about getting to know your neighbors; don't just wave from the garage as you close the door. Be on the lookout for ways to be kind to them. When possible involve your child in whatever help you can offer. Conspire together to do random acts of kindness too. Bake cookies, rake their lawn for them, pick up trash and debris along the street, etc.
One of the key points of the lesson of the Good Samaritan is that our "neighbor" is not just the person next door. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, and demonstrates that using this story about a man who helped a complete stranger. As God brings people across your path, be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and do what He tells you to do. As God leads you to help others, be ever mindful of teachable moments and opportunities to involve your child in loving others.
Bio: Judi Murphy is a freelance writer from Springfield, MO, with 15 years hands-on experience in compassion ministries.