For many of my friends and colleagues the holiday season from the months of November through January is their favorite time of year. We have family gatherings, time off of work to spend with our kids, great meals, and exchanging of gifts. However, I just drove into a parking lot of a large home improvement store and saw numerous people waiting for the opportunity to do work. Others who had holes in their jackets and looked like they hadn’t eaten in days, and some who simply held signs asking for any help a person could spare. Seeing all of these people was a blunt reminder that not everyone has all of their basic human needs met. I drive by this store routinely, but I’ve become desensitized to the people in the parking lot. It made me ask, “Where has my compassion gone?”
How do we teach compassion? I see through my toddler that compassion is a natural human trait. She readily offers me her soggy half eaten cookie and freely gives hugs. However as we grow, this innocence leaves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: kids need to learn how to say no and how to watch out for potential danger. We have to stay safe from assault and theft. But it’s sad to know that my toddler will likely begin to ignore the person begging for change on the corner, or may not recognize when a classmate doesn’t have enough to eat or shoes that fit.
Here are some of the actions I’m going to incorporate into my life to continue to be compassionate:
- Volunteer – make the time to volunteer in your community. This allows your teen to engage with people from a completely different social circle, learn time management, discover the importance of commitment (such as showing up on time!), and can lead to letters of reference for future employment.
- Donate – many religions ask that you set aside a small amount of your income for the place of worship or to provide for the community. This idea is a great one. Use some of what you earn to help others. Your teen doesn’t need to donate to a religious organization. There are numerous other ways to share a small amount of what we earn though charities. If your teen isn’t working, consider teaching them to donate a toy/device they are no longer using. Take food to a food bank this year. An added bonus that donations are often a tax write off.
- Thank a veteran for their service. A colleague told me that her family thanks veterans when they see them in uniform. This has lead to new friendships, learned history, and great appreciation from people they’d never have encountered otherwise.
Do you have other tips for parents? How is your family showing compassion to others?