Anyone who watches TV news—or spends time on social media, or works in customer service, or drives during rush hour—might be inclined to say we live in the Age of Anger. Everywhere we look, someone seems to be screaming insults, turning crimson, or threatening if not actually committing violence. All of which are rooted in the idea that we’re more important than anyone else, and we should be able to force others to agree or back down.
Widespread as it is, that idea causes nothing but misery. How can we counter such examples and teach our children compassion, empathy, and kindness?
We can model the kinds of behavior we expect, toward our children and everyone else. This means keeping a respectful tone of voice even in the face of rudeness; asking politely rather than hurling demands; and never implying that someone lacks basic intelligence or integrity. But there’s even more to modeling compassionate behavior; our whole way of life feeds our attitude toward others. Does our everyday conversation imply that “getting ahead” is what matters? Are we wearing ourselves out with “doing,” depleting ourselves into exhaustion that manifests in irritability? Are we too hard on ourselves, moaning constantly about never getting anything “right” (i. e., perfect)? Only those who guard their own spiritual energy are capable of empathy toward others.
We can exercise patience. Young children are actually our best teachers—both persistence and “taking it easy” come naturally to them. If your three-year-old is struggling to get his jacket zipper started, don’t insist on jumping in to do it for him. If your four-year-old stops to admire a ladybug or lizard before getting into the car, take time to join her in appreciating life’s little beauties. (If you’re really running too late to lose five minutes, it’s time to reconsider the “have-to-dos” in your life.) Be patient with kids’ growing-up speed, also; don’t demand adult-level competence and efficiency while they’re still in elementary school.
We can listen to our kids. This ties in with patience and respect. Really listening means putting down whatever else we’re doing and looking them in the eye; waiting for them to finish sentences; and making a genuine effort to comprehend the message and the feelings behind it. It also means acknowledging that even the smallest children (and other people we consider uninformed) have individual insights—and may have valuable things to teach us.
We can emphasize and model resilience, that invaluable ability to bounce back from disappointment. Resilient people are more empathetic because they aren’t controlled by fear or impatience and by the resulting defensiveness. Basic resilience strategies include believing in oneself; cultivating a spiritually rooted outlook; and taking time for refreshment.
We can make use of quality educational resources that reinforce empathy. Contact Shady Oak for recommendations.
No matter how many public figures model selfishness, it’s us our children look to for their primary values. If we ourselves become examples of compassion, our children have a head start on bringing more of that essential element into the world.