Written by Mary Lindberg
Compassion is kind of like reading or doing cartwheels. You can’t learn it without doing it…and you can’t fake it. Your kids are very intuitive about certain things—like feeling your compassion for them and others. They know!
Besides caring yourself, teaching your kids about compassion means providing them opportunities to care. Sounds easy, but that’s not necessarily so. It helps to be part of communities that are showing compassion through service, like churches. Groups of families can also join together to do good for their community, with their kids in tow.
But compassion can also begin at home. For example, kids can really, really learn about compassion by being kind to their siblings. When a brother or sister is distraught because they can’t find their pacifier or blankie, kids can help look for it.
Let’s back up for a moment and talk about the word “compassion.” This word was originally from the Latin patior. It meant “with suffering.” And that’s really what compassion is—a willingness to be with someone else when they’re down. And also a willingness to let someone be with us when we are down.
On an icy day in Chicago, I was out for an afternoon walk. Suddenly I hit a patch of ice that sent me flying into the air and landing hard. So hard that I couldn’t get up and I knew I was in bad shape. A couple was driving by at just that moment and pulled over. They talked to me and called an ambulance. They stayed with me and comforted me when I was scared. They even came to the emergency room to be with me while I got treatment and waited for family. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Total strangers stopped to help me! They didn’t have to do that. Three things changed that day: 1. I believed in people’s love more than before, 2. I took the story of the Good Samaritan much more seriously, and 3. I began to watch for people who had fallen when I was driving. I really, truly became more open to caring because I was the recipient of such kindness.
Of course we don’t want our kids to fall, but when they do—the lessons of compassion can abound!
MARY LINDBERG is an ELCA pastor who lives in Seattle, Washington. She has written curriculum for Augsburg Fortress for many years, including Spark, Holy Moly, and Whirl. At one time Mary served as
a children’s pastor; now she works as a chaplain for older adults. Mary and her husband have two grown daughters.