One of the most effective ways to raise compassionate children is by showing compassion to others. Did the Starbucks barista mess up your order? How did you react? Did you belittle the employee, or rant about how annoyed or angry you were? Or did you accept that people make mistakes, and acknowledge that it's OK? How you react, especially in front of your kids, will teach them how to react.
Kids feel a full range of emotions, just like we do. But, they may not fully understand what emotion they're feeling, or what to call it. Help them name their emotions in different scenarios. When they're happy, talk about happiness! If they're sad or scared, give that emotion a name, and talk about some other things that may make them (or you) sad or scared. Most importantly, share your own emotions with your kids. It's OK for them to see you feel anger or sadness, and it helps them understand that those feelings are valid.
This one is so important! Give your children age-appropriate chores, encourage charitable giving (for example, donating old toys and gently used clothes to local shelters), teach them to be the helping-hand with their younger siblings or friends. We all know kids can be selfish at times, which is absolutely normal, but by instilling in them the act of giving and helping, you're showing them how they can benefit their community with their actions.
Let's be honest: kids are more inclined to do something when they're going to be praised for it. And that's OK! Altruism isn't something that we should expect from our kids all the time. Sure, they might feel good after cleaning up their breakfast dishes without being asked. But by acknowledging their action, and offering praise, you're helping them connect doing good to feeling good.
This is a big one. Watching how your kids interact with their friends can tell you a lot about not only your own children, but how they develop relationships. At my daughter's dance studio, dancers are allowed to apply for solos when they turn 10. My girl is only 7, but many of her friends and fellow dancers are old enough and get chosen to compete their solo. Watching her offer congratulations and love to her friends who're doing something she desperately wants for herself makes me so proud. Another way to encourage your kids to be good friends is by making sure they understand that things like name-calling and talking behind someone's back are hurtful actions.
Every child is wonderfully unique, and celebrating these differences will help your children learn tolerance and respect for others. Talk to your kids about what makes people different; age-appropriate conversations about race, religion, sexuality, and disabilities can start very early. You'd be surprised what kids can understand and process, when as young as 2 or 3! It's not uncommon for kids to have questions when they encounter someone who looks or behaves differently than they do for the first time. Talk about these differences, and stress that everyone is unique and special in their own way. And make sure that they understand that being differently-abled, or having darker or lighter skin, or speaking a different language, doesn't make anyone less or better than anyone else.
When your older child helps their little brother or sister with a toy, or shares something with their friend without being asked, take a moment to recognize that! Those little moments, where a child shows kindness to someone else, are a great time to offer praise. Be specific: "Thank you for reading to your brother while I was doing the dishes, that was very kind of you and was very helpful to me!" Raising compassionate children goes hand-in-hand with raising kind, considerate children.
I don't force my kids to hug or speak to someone they don't feel comfortable with, as a general rule. I want to respect their own personal boundaries, and that's one way I do that. But, I do have some rules that are non-negotiable. They must always say please when asking someone (anyone) for something, they must always say thank you, and they are not to interrupt while someone else is speaking. Having good manners is a way to show respect for other people, and learn to expect in return.
We all that moment when our kids hit the wall because of hunger, exhaustion, or just being overwhelmed. Instead of powering through, or teaching them to ignore their own needs, stop what you're doing and give your child what they need in that moment. Acknowledging their needs helps them see that you care about them and respect them, and in turn, helps them do the same with others. While you're doing this, name their emotion and connect it to how they reacted. "I know you're tired, which caused you to cry when your crayon broke. If I was tired, I would have done the same."
Raising compassionate children is an ongoing process, and everyday you'll encounter a new or different way to guide them toward kindness. But nothing will be as effective as walking the walk. It's the classic, "Do as I say, not as I do." If we want our kids to be compassionate little humans, WE need to be compassionate parents and adults. Use every opportunity in your daily life to model the behavior you expect from your little people. They will follow in your footsteps, every time.