7 ways to teach your kids compassion
From the Winter 2011 edition of the World Vision magazine comes the wonderful feature “Raising Kids Who Care: Seven Ways to Help Your Children Develop Compassion.”
In a country where children are bombarded with advertisements for new toys and tantalizing trinkets, it can be hard for them to ignore their own wants and consider the needs of others—especially others whose worlds are vastly different.
It’s a challenge that Carl and Teresa Camera of Austin, Texas, know only too well. But recently their boys, Christopher, 11, and Kevin, 10, have taken steps that demonstrate a broader outlook. Last summer, Christopher volunteered to lead a Vacation Bible School class for younger children at his church. Kevin decided to donate $120 he had saved to help fund a deep-water well in a developing country. With an allowance of only $5 a week, it was for him an enormous sum.
Carl and Teresa offer seven tips for helping children capture a bigger vision:
1. Make it personal
It’s hard to share a vision unless you have first embraced it yourself. Carl became more attuned to the needs of the wider world after he participated in a church mission trip toGuatemalaand subsequently shared his experiences with his family. The family decided to sponsor two children in Guatemala. Kevin and Christopher both picked boys about their age—Johnathon Gonzales and Juan Pineda—and soon all four began exchanging cards and drawings. Now Kevin and Christopher mention their Guatemalan friends nearly every day during family prayer times.
2. Picture it
In 2006, Carl and Teresa traveled to Guatemala to meet their sponsored children. They would have loved to have taken their boys but felt they were still too young. Nevertheless, the couple returned with powerful stories and photos that they shared with Kevin and Christopher—and they plan to take the boys to Guatemalain the future. Among the strongest impressions: photos of the humble shacks where their sponsored children live, the struggle to get clean water, and the mass graves of those buried by recurring mudslides. Carl and Teresa also regularly talk with their boys about the photographs they see in World Vision magazine. “In a picture,” Teresa explains, “you get a concept of something that you may never have experienced in your entire life.”
3. Discuss eternal values
A Scripture that Carl and Teresa often share with their children is Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” When Kevin donated money for the water well, he smiled and said he was storing up treasures in heaven. Carl regularly reminds his children that earthly treasures have limited value.
4. Lead by example
When Carl, a software engineer, got laid off, the family had to stop eating out and even put their home on the market to avoid a potential foreclosure. As it turned out, the family finances recovered. But in the midst of the trial, Carl and Teresa chose to continue sponsoring, both to honor their commitment and to serve as an example to their children. “You think they are not paying attention,” Carl says, “but your children will pick up on what you actually do, compared to what you say you do.”
5. Seize the teachable moment
While some parental teaching occurs by example, much is also conveyed quite intentionally. Recently, Kevin and Christopher were thrilled to be invited to a friend’s party, where they enjoyed a swimming pool with an exciting water slide. Carl encouraged his boys to take a lesson from the kindness of their friend’s family. “What a blessing they are to share that with us,” he said to them. “And we can be a blessing in the same way to others.’”
6. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Many voices compete to shape children in our society, so the Cameras actively introduce their children to positive role models. For example, in homeschooling, Teresa uses a curriculum that includes stories about famous missionaries such as Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward. At the same time, she and Carl limit the boys’ exposure to television, mainly because of the pervasiveness of ads aimed at children. They are concerned that if their children are consumed by the desire for the latest electronics, more Lego® pieces, or a new scooter, they will find it harder to think of others. Teresa points out, “I am constantly telling my children, ‘OK, so you don’t have all these toys that your friends do, but you can be rich in love.’”
7. Pray without ceasing
Carl and Teresa maintain that even with the best intentions and parenting techniques, it’s no guarantee that children will take the right path. It has to be a work of God. “[We] pray that God gets ahold of their heart,” Teresa says, “that they give their lives to serve Jesus and live a life pleasing to him.”