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Teaching Kids Empathy and Compassion

Cape Canaveral 094(Pictured: I spotted this ladybug while sitting in the car on a drive through Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. My husband was shocked that I could see that up on a tree, while in the car. We stopped and got out to look at it and my kids loved it! We teach them to appreciate even the small things in nature.)

Parents are often looking for ways to get kids to stop bullying, teasing, or fighting among themselves. Yet an adult will, in front of the child, roll up a stack of newspaper to smack a little spider that made its way into the home. Or they will think nothing of stepping on an insect walking by while sitting out on the back patio. Meanwhile, the child watches and learns.

What if, on the other hand, the child watched the parent treat those little creatures with empathy and compassion? What if the child saw the parent help the earthling, or just let it go on its way?

In my home I try to teach my kids empathy and compassion starting with even the smallest things in nature. Spiders that find their way into the home are helped outdoors. We check our driveway path for slugs in the morning so that we don't roll over them on our way out. If they are there we pick them up and move them aside. We stop to help turtles get across the road. When we look at wildflowers out on a hike I teach them to not pick them, or that beautiful flower will then die. All of these acts, and the others that we do, help to teach them about how they should be treating other living creatures. 

Last week on a nature club outting there was a child who was standing near us. A small spider came walking by and immediately this child picked the foot up and was ready to slam it down on this spider that posed no threat to us at all. I spoke up quicky and said no, and the child listened, putting the foot back down. I then went on to explain to the child that the spider wants life too, just like the child does, and there is no reason to take its life. The spider posed no threat, so there was no issues of defending one's self from it.

We need to teach children empathy and compassion even with the smallest of things. What they learn will indeed transcend to larger things as well. All creatures want life, just like we do. I say live and let live, and I hope other parents will say the same, and teach it to their kids.

"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar."
- Bradley Millar


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