While just about every parent aspires to teach their children great life lessons, it's also important to understand just what the results of those life lessons need to be. Children learn at a relatively young age to empathise with others ' at the age of around four years, they begin to understand other people's feelings in relation to their own. But there's a subtle difference between empathy and compassion. It's a similar emotion in that you are able to recognise and even feel another person's pain; but empathy is passive whereas compassion is coupled with a desire to do something positive about that pain. Bereavement is a good example; an empathetic person will consider the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one, they will find similar experiences in their own life to draw on in order to fully understand the loss. A compassionate person will do all that, but will be compelled to help in some way, by reassuring, helping out with day to day tasks, or doing something that counts.
With just about any life lesson, the first experiences are at home. As a parent, the responsibility is to teach with actions - it's the unsaid that holds far more meaning than words alone. If you truly want to teach your child compassion, you need to display it yourself. But, and this is important, it's also vital to not let yourself or your child get so concerned that you become an emotional sponge. Be mindful of keeping their problem in perspective in terms of your own life and realise that some people need their challenging experiences to stimulate growth in their lives.
Talk to your child about what compassion is ' for example if you see a beggar on the street, chat about why that person is begging, what their life may be like and how they must feel. Then ask your child what they would like to do to help that person. In that way you instil both empathy and the more active result of compassion.
An excellent practice to demonstrate compassion is to give your child the opportunity to volunteer to serve other people. Working at a charity allows them to experience the joy of giving to someone else for no tangible or material gain for themselves.
Aside from compassion, volunteering offers numerous life lesson opportunities, not least the belief that you can make a difference. It is a wonderful self-esteem building lesson and cements the ability to be compassionate. When you believe that your actions matter, you're more likely to take action.
GET ANGER OUT OF THE WAY
A building block to compassion is letting go of anger. It's very difficult to feel any positive emotion when anger is clouding your vision. Once again, talking to your child about any anger they might have will help them to understand their emotions, express them and let them go.
As the Dalai Lama advocates, talking about how anger can lead to action or change in a positive way helps alleviate the negative aspects of anger. Help your children turn anger into compassion by discovering what led to the circumstance or situation that made them angry. Allow them to explore and unpack the reasons behind other people's behaviour. For example, a bully at school might be living in a broken home, causing them to lash out. By exploring reasons, you will assist your child to see other people in a different light and be less judgemental; and so, more compassionate. Note that it's also important to teach your child not to brush off bad behaviour simply because there is a reason for that behaviour.
The best way to learn is to teach and one of the true joys of parenting is the incredible lessons you learn from your children, as you're teaching them. By being mindful of finding examples of compassion to teach your child, you'll build a greater ability for compassion yourself. And this will further cement this important life lesson in your child.
did you know?There's a noted difference betweeen compassion and co-dependency. Compassionate intentions are lead by selflessness and love; where co-dependency is fuelled by self-protection. Compassion and loving kindness can be learned in much the same way as learning a musical instrument.
WHY IS THIS LESSON IMPORTANT?
Numerous studies on compassion have shown incredible benefits of this emotion. Here are just some study results:
Compassionate action activates and strengthens pleasure and reward circuits in the brain, leading to an increase in happiness
It can make you more resilient under stress by lowering stress hormones and strengthening the immune system
Compassion can make you a better parent, or a more nurturing human being ' compassion breeds compassion
Being supportive of a friend or loved one increases the relationship satisfaction of both individuals
Compassion increases your social ability, which means you're less likely to be lonely
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