From Selfish to Selfless: How To Raise Compassionate Kids in Today’s World10 min read

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I don’t like most kids. Most kids 

  • are selfish which makes them annoying moppets. 
  • cry unnecessarily to manipulate you to their whim. 
  • Trouble your peace and concentration at work. 
  • Don’t care about your emotions or mental state when they need your attention. 
  • Taunt other children for power and control. 

Sometimes, it just looks like they are void of empathy not to mention compassion

But all hope is not lost

Why do some kids lack compassion? 

Esther, an adorable and smart kid, one day, for no obvious reason started howling for hours. Every effort to console her was in vain. Suddenly, she hits her elder brother in the face with her palm for not saying sorry to her and stoped crying. 

At first, it was funny but on second thought, I noticed how much children crave attention and compassion yet hardly can give it or reciprocate. 

Kids almost know nothing about fostering relationships and social networking, unless someone older teaches them. Calling them “little monsters” is justifiable.

But, as I said, all hope is not lost. The British psychologist John Bowlby suggested the relationship between the child and the caregiver in his attachment theory can help a child develop a compassionate, secure, and profitable social experience. 

So, how do you instil compassion in a child? 

Role modelling compassion for the young.

It’s the task of their caregivers or older ones to show through their actions what it means to be compassionate (because children mostly learn by mimicry). 

For example, I was unkind as a teenager. But watching my mother and my friends (Rawlings and Edwin) demonstrate compassion in their way taught me to be more empathetic and compassionate. 

  • My Mother didn’t do this by pampering me all day. In fact, she would often allow a child to fall while attempting to walk. She believes you are doing the child a favor by letting them learn about pain and how to get over it by picking themselves up and keep moving forward (and she was right)., If the child slips she rushes to save or console the child. Then she says to the infant, “Don’t be afraid”, or, “Don’t cry”, but insists the child must try again.  Most times the child appears to get the message instantly because words and gestures are inherent skills for our species. (Remember, compassion is not about feeling people’s pain, but helping them overcome it – even if it means sitting back and watching them suffer a bit).
  • Rawlings on the other hand always shared whatever he had with the crew no matter how little it was. He believed that’s what families are meant for. 
  • Whereas, Edwin could accommodate a throng of characters and never complains about their differences. (This is some level of caring and sharing I am yet to attain).

The point is that humans, especially children, must be shown compassion if they are to learn. Allow them to observe compassionate actions, empathic facial gestures, and use kind words. This way you will install a lifetime program that would be difficult to corrupt. 

`Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  

– Prov. 22:6

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Raising a compassionate child in the age of entitlement (through storytelling) 

You can use storytelling to help a child develop compassion. Stories are a way to communicate complex real-life situations easily and captivatingly to illustrate and inculcate certain truths or morals. 

Cinderella is one of those Disney stories that teaches compassion and other similar lessons:

Cinderella was kind and gentle, unlike her stepfamily. Despite her stepmother’s mistreatment, she stood up for herself and others. Good-hearted and compassionate toward most people (including her step-family). 

Cinderella taught us that kindness and compassion lead to great strength. And that forgiveness is also one of the most courageous and compassionate acts you can ever perform. (Even if it will feel like hard work.) 

While these stories can be helpful, they must be carefully constructed to avoid misconceptions. Here are some tips to get started:

The Main Characters 

The main characters must be kind and caring. This helps a child learn about compassion easily as they love to see themselves as the main character. (Remember, children often think the world revolves around them.) . 

Talk about the emotions of the characters

Ask the child how they think the characters are feeling and why. This can help the juvenile understand other people’s feelings and develop their emotional vocabulary.

Encourage your child to switch positions with the characters. 

Ask them to imagine what it would be like to be in the character’s situation. This can help them practice empathy and understand what others might be feeling, as well as think about different ways they might show compassion in their own lives.

Pivot from the story to talk about real-world issues like diversity, fairness, and social justice using stories. It can be a useful tool for young people to help them think about how their actions affect others and to encourage them to consider their needs and feelings.

How to teach a child to be kind and compassionate (through gratitude). 

Saying a few words of Thanksgiving before eating was a custom in my family. As kids, my siblings and I were punished for not praying before eating and for not offering thanks to our parents after eating. We didn’t understand the importance of this until we came of age. 

It is common for life to present challenges and difficulties, and these experiences do not always align with your inherent goodness or badness. Some people have done harm to experience good fortune, while those who led virtuous lives face hardship. It is important to remember that every individual’s circumstances are unique and that there are always others who may be facing more or less difficult situations. Instead of dwelling on negative experiences, it may be more productive to focus on finding ways to navigate and overcome them.

The Stoics believed that you shouldn’t just be thankful for the gifts you receive. You must also be grateful for all the people, friends and family, and events in your life. (As well as, setbacks and problems).

Children must know this truth about life. It will be their saving grace when everything starts falling apart (and things inevitably will). They will one day have to handle injustice, rejection, and the death of loved ones. But with gratitude as a primary pillar of their life, they can count their every little blessing. 

When they understand how lucky and blessed they are, they can now be genuinely kind and compassionate to people in worse conditions. (Because there is always someone having it worse.) 

Rewarding a compassionate Child. 

In operant conditioning theory, B. F Skinner believed that in the teaching and learning process, rewards and punishment are necessary to modify a person’s behavior. 

Rewarding a child for being compassionate is likely going to encourage the child to show more compassion in the future. 

Let’s go back to the story of my siblings and me as kids… 

After thanking our parents for any meal, they would often respond, “Oh, God bless you, my child”. This response satisfied us and felt like a reward. Subconsciously, we come back for more by showing more gratitude. 

This trick can be applied in different scenarios. 

For instance; 

  • Praise a child for their kindness and generosity, when they share their toys with other kids. 
  • Applaud your teenage sibling for giving out their extra pair of shoes to a friend who can’t afford one. 
  • Honor a child when they look after their younger ones. 

Whereas, unkind behaviors should be punished. This does not mean a kick to the butt every time a child acts like a cold-hearted monster. Simply, point out their wrongs and show them how to do them right. 

Teaching compassion on Social Media

Furthermore, It’s no secret that social media can be a breeding ground for negativity, with users often quick to criticize and insult one another. 

However, it’s important to remember that social media can also be a powerful tool for spreading positivity and compassion. Older people are responsible for teaching children or teens the value of compassion on social media. 

As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Children and teens often model their behavior after what they see from adults, so it’s important to be mindful of how you communicate and interact on social media (because the kids are watching). 

If you’re quick to criticize or spread negativity online, kids are more likely to follow suit. On the other hand, if you consistently show compassion and kindness online, your children are more likely to adopt those behaviors as well.

Also, discuss Online Etiquette: Just as there are certain social norms and expectations that we follow in the real world, there are also certain expectations for behavior online. Help children and teens understand the importance of online etiquettes, such as not sharing personal information or using respectful language while you help them find ways to express themselves. 

Encourage children and teens to use the platform to show kindness and support to their friends and others. Whether it’s through likes, comments, or sharing positive content.

My final thought about raising a compassionate child: 

Raising a compassionate child would certainly please everyone and benefit society. It is an important task for parents, guardians, and older siblings. Even as a young person reading this.

To the child: they avoid growing up into a real-time Green Grinch. A bad-tempered, grumpy, lonely,  selfish creature, and a bully of other people. 

To the parents and society: they are more pleased for child growth and social engagement. Also, they are saved from the consequences of the child’s proclivity to animosity. 

Although, there is no guarantee that the training would pay off forever because people change. Nevertheless,  teaching a child compassion greatly helps modify their selfish proclivity and increases the act of caring and sharing. 

Also be aware of children who may sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of compassion, as it can be overwhelming for them due to their limited ability to make complex decisions based on logic and social intelligence. This can negatively impact their development. Instead of reacting impulsively, teach them that all emotions and behaviours should be regulated and kept in moderation, as the Stoics believed.

A mindful self-help writer and photographer

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