As much as special-needs parents understand caring for others, cultivating compassion in our children can be difficult. Sometimes, conditions like autism or mental illness make compassion challenging to develop. Other times, children can become self-centered and focused as they grapple with the pain of their struggles.
Here are some practical strategies to develop this vital characteristic in our families:
1. Intentionally point out and discuss the needs of others
Young people may require direct teaching in this area. When my sons were toddlers, we had a poster with kids displaying various facial expressions. Each expression had an emotion attached to it. We rehearsed this almost daily to help them interpret non-verbal cues, but also to cultivate empathy.
When they were a bit older, we began coaching them in social interactions by telling them how their behavior was impacting their friends or likely perceived in the community. This direct teaching was used for both positive and negative interactions. In many ways, I acted as a narrator for their lives during this stage; explaining the world around them and how they were operating within it.
As they have grown, we discuss news events, life events in the people around us and their own experiences in ways that point to not only facts but likely emotional responses that co-occur. This practice has challenged us to perceive likely needs and emotions that we can respond to as we engage with these situations.
2. Travel, Serving, and Giving
Despite the limitations our families experience, there are ways we can help our children see beyond our walls. Even trips to the library or stores provide a myriad of ways to really see those around us. If you are able to travel more broadly, cross-cultural experiences will greatly hone your family’s compassion as you experience being “the others” while being immersed in the struggles of other cultures.
Serving others is possible for almost every child. Finding ways to do this as a family cultivates compassion in each member. Food banks, Operation Christmas Child, visiting nursing homes and volunteering in our neighborhoods provide ample service opportunities. Prayer for others’ needs is always possible even when we are homebound.
Our family’s favorite service place, besides church, has been a local ministry to the homeless called the Mercy Tree. This wonderful ministry provides lunch in a local church, devotions, laundry service, showers and transportation to those without homes. As we cook for our friends and eat together, we understand more of a world we have never experienced and our ability to love in those places broadens.
3. Share great stories!
Powerful stories that transcend their time always include adversity that their characters overcome. We can link the characters’ struggles to relevant experiences in our lives or those of others. This helps us not only understand pain, but what is required to face and overcome the type of struggle depicted. These stories are blueprints to guide us in helping others.
4. Practice gratitude and compassion at home
Tell your spouse frequently what you love and appreciate about him/her in front of your children
Around the dinner table, have each family member share thankfulness about the person next to them
Keep a thankfulness list in a central location and encourage everyone to contribute
Each month, assign one family member to select a person or family to serve in some way
Invite others into your home
Love each other well
Find penpals from other countries and exchange letters
I hope that some of these strategies encouraged you to find new ways to encourage compassion in your family. Besides the joy it will bring your children, fostering compassion expands their relationships and equips them to better relate to their communities.
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This article was reposted from www.amblinggrace.com with permission from the author.