Men's Articles

Compassion - The Giving Tree

Is Your Child

  • Loving and gentle?
  • Emotionally astute?
  • Generous in spirit?
  • Imaginative in self-expression?

If you ticked off more than one of these traits, congratulations, you probably have in hand a compassionate child. About a third of children have this gift and they grow up to be responsible and beautiful adults. For those who don't, read on. The ages of seven to nine mark the beginning of responsibility and accountability.

The lower-primary child has established himself in school and now bears the marks of dependability. School is now a social place for interaction and transaction. This is the time to develop cognitive empathy - the ability to see things from another person's perspective and to act accordingly. The child by now has acquired an inner reference point and can identify with the feelings of others caught in a distressing situation.

He will be able to extend help, if not express outrage, at the unfair treatment in a bully situation. Altruistic acts will appear when the child derives great satisfaction in helping out with a handicapped child in his class or even to tidy up the library corner on his own initiative. To raise a loving giver who cares for others and whose behavior is consistent with these feelings, here is what you can do as a parent.

Model Compassion At Home

Considerate and responsible behavior starts at your doorstep, not at the school gate or religious class. Often parents accept sloppy language and tardy behavior at home simply because they have not established clear boundaries of family rules and expectations. "School is too hectic, there's just no time to assign him chores," laments a mum when her child refuses to clean his room and yells expletives at her when upset at her constant nagging.

It's time to chuck the excuses, take charge and realise that the world does not revolve around your tyrannical junior. If you want a compassionate child, you must cultivate in him a thoughtful spirit of selfless giving - right now.

Practise Acts Of Kindness

In the United States, a national movement called Random Acts of Kindness (www.actsofkindness. org) has shown how simple acts of thoughtfulness can profoundly affect people's lives. You, too, can initiate that in your child's life by creating a platform to launch such altruistic acts.

Cleaning up the neighborhood playground or writing encouraging notes to sick children in the hospital are some of the creative ways to teach empathy. When a child has acquired the habit to give selflessly, it will soon become an intrinsic part of his life. Such a charitable spirit will continue into adulthood, where the emotional intelligence he's gained will serve him well in his career.

Involve Your Child In Community Outreach

A Jewish rabbi I know in America encourages his charges who are preparing for their Bar Mitzvah, a rite of passage into young adulthood - to do community outreach for the year. His philosophy? 

"Responsibility in life must be fused with compassion, humility and sensitivity. Only when a child has learnt to serve others with a genuine kindness, then is he able to become a man of great moral character." His rule is simple but effective. The kids in his class took up projects to feed the homeless and clean the local animal shelter on a regular basis. Through their giving, these kids acquire social skills, the importance of cooperation and the value of perseverance and following through.

Walk The Talk

If you, as a parent, have a lacklustre attitude about caring and giving to the community at large, don't expect your child to develop a passion for charitable acts. Your child is at the age when he is quick to emulate what he sees. Choose something meaningful to you and your family for a start - it could be as simple as packing old clothes and toys to give to a children's home.

Ask your child how he feels after each project and praise his efforts. At the same time, it's important to choose a realistic activity and keep the commitment a priority. If you abandon the project after a month because you're overloaded with work, you're sending mixed signals to your child.

Committing yourself and your family, to regularly helping others in organised projects will not only teach your child to be more compassionate to others, you will find that your own family dynamics will be greatly enriched as well. Therein lies the truth of the adage that it is more blessed to give than to receive!


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