I am a big proponent of STEAM-style education. That is, an education that focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. This philosophy values the vigorous pursuit of knowledge in the STEAM fields while helping students to identify and make the connections between and across all subject areas including the arts and humanities.
The goal is to foster the development of innovation that comes with combining the thinking of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist. Ideally, with this type of education, students are able to engage in the flexible thinking, risk-taking and creative problem solving needed to solve today’s most complex societal challenges from healthcare reform to urban revitalization to troublesome environmental dilemmas.
Although I believe children should strive for academic and creative excellence, I am certainly no Tiger Mom.
I’m not of the mindset that parents have to throw acts of nurturing out the window in order for their kid to reach their full potential. To the contrary, I believe that showing compassion towards a child and nurturing their emotions and sense of well-being is much more likely to produce a well-rounded, high-functioning, happy adult.
It is the child who has experienced compassion and empathy in his or her own life who grows up knowing how to relate to and connect with others and how to engage in healthy relationships which is the foundation for any productive, happy and meaningful life.
In the aftermath of the recent movie theater massacre, news reports indicated that the perpetrator was, by all accounts, very well-educated and highly intelligent.
Was the killer’s mother of the Tiger Mom mentality?
Is it possible that some kids are pushed so hard to reach their parent’s idealistic version of success that they develop a “one-track” mind so obsessed with scientific theories or complex mathematical equations, that they are incapable of feeling compassion for others?
I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of children, highly intelligent or otherwise, will grow up with at least enough respect for the well-being of others that they will not chose to walk unprovoked into a public place and with reckless abandon spray gunfire upon an unsuspecting crowd of innocent people.
However, the facts surrounding this heinous and vicious crime beg the question: Had the attacker been taught empathy, compassion and tolerance, could he have been able to commit this despicable crime, or would he have been prevented from even the notion of such an atrocity by his ability to feel empathy and compassion for others?
In his case, who knows? Regardless, the value of teaching young children about what it means to be empathetic and to show empathy toward others cannot be overstated.
When children (and adults) are able to put themselves in another person’s shoes, it enables them to be more sensitive to what the other person is experiencing, switching on an ability to relate. This helps them become more socially adept which makes them happier. Research strongly suggests that humans are hard-wired for compassion and being kind and altruistic makes kids happy.
Furthermore, promoting empathy and compassion reduces the likelihood of teasing and bullying.
If by explicitly refining a young child’s natural tendency to be more mindful of other people’s feelings and their situations, we can prevent future problems and create a more accepting, peaceful and respectful world, then as a society we need to kick the efforts up a few notches!
Most schools are very busy making sure kids are getting plenty of academic instruction and there is just not much time for character education such as learning how to show kindness, compassion and understanding.
So, parents need to make sure they are doing all they can to enrich their childrens’ character education in the realm of compassion and empathy.
What do these words really mean? Are they synonymous? Here are the definitions for each word (from Dictionary.com).
Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow FOR another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Empathy: the intellectual identification WITH or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
Five Ways Parents Can Cultivate Compassion and Empathy:
1. Show unconditional love to your children, so that they are immersed in empathy and compassion, and so that they know that you love them and accept them for who they are as unique individuals.
2. Be a role model and show compassion and empathy towards others so that your kids can see it in action. A parent might say, “Your brother seems upset. Let’s ask him what we can do to help him.” Or “Dad hurt his back. Let’s ask him if we can get him an ice pack to make him feel better.”
3. Reduce exposure to violent film, television programs and video games, and discuss why violence and bullying is wrong.
4. Teach your kids how to be peacemakers and teach them how to fairly mediate disputes so that they can learn how people with differences can listen to each other in mutually respectful and productive ways.
5. Give kids opportunities to practice compassion and empathy. For example, during a sibling dispute encourage kids can put themselves in another’s shoes to gain perspective as to where the other sibling’s anger and frustration is coming from. Compassion can be exercised as a child sifts through books to donate to another child who has never had books to call his own.
Great Programs Designed to Develop Compassion and Empathy in Children:
Roots of Empathy is a classroom-based program that has shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression and violence while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy in schools around the world. I love this program and I believe it should be integrated into every primary school’s curriculum. It’s a very simple yet powerful concept: Every three weeks during the school year, a baby and parent, members of the community, visit the classroom (kindergarten through 8th) with a certified Roots of Empathy instructor. The instructor helps the students learn about the baby’s development and teaches them how to care for and connect with the child. The class also celebrates the baby’s milestones during each visit and learns about what it takes to successfully nurture a baby. The students come away with a well-developed sense of empathy and emotional literacy.
Watch the video to learn more about this wonderful program.
Seeds of Compassion provides programs that nurture compassion in children as part of the emerging “global Compassion Movement.” The website’s resources have been selected “to provide children, parents, educators, clinicians, and business/policy leaders with books that demonstrate compassion, as well as articles and books that suggest easy steps for bringing compassion into your home, family, and workplace.”
Do you teach your global kids about empathy and compassion? If so, feel free to share your tips and ideas!