When I was pregnant, someone gave me the book Children Are From Heaven. It was one of the best gifts I've ever received. The author John Grey encourages parents to treat their children with respect, gentleness, and kindness. I am convinced that, if we want to raise compassionate people (and why wouldn't we?) we must treat them that way.
It's hard to talk about parenting ideas without sounding as if you're preaching, or as if you're some kind of perfect parent. I'm certainly far from perfect, but I do have some thoughts on this subject. This is a blog post, and I don't want to spend hours writing it to perfection, so I'll just go ahead and hope you will forgive any clumsy tone ...
Listen to your children.
If you want your children to have respect, kindness, and compassion for other people, you have to show them what that looks like in action. Of course, none of us is perfect, and as parents we're going to make a mess of things repeatedly. Listening, though, helps. Listening, and believing that our children's voices are the equal value of our own.
Take their behaviour personally.
If you don't take the things they do to you personally, and show a genuine (albeit adult) response, then how will they ever believe they have a real impact on others? And how can they learn to trust that anyone is in an authentic relationship with them? (Keeping in mind of course that their ability to articulate may be undeveloped - taking it personally doesn't mean taking it literally!)
Have faith in your children.
If you believe they will behave well, you create the energy and environment for that to happen.
When you see a situation where someone could have handled themselves better, discuss with your child (privately) the possible causes for that - remembering as a wise man said that everyone is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about. Maybe the checkout operator has a headache. Maybe the grumpy old man just lost a friend.
Say you're sorry.
What I said before about parents making a mess of things? (Shall we all pause here for a collective sigh?) Apologising when you get things wrong not only shows your children they are valuable human beings, but gives them a wonderful example to follow - that people with power and authority are not reduced by humbling themselves and by asking for compassion and grace.
Show mercy and forgiveness.
I don't believe punishments work in the long term. I've always thought it was more important to offer forgiveness, for the healing of the soul and also proving that making mistakes doesn't have to end in terrible consequences. More than that, I don't believe in letting children suffer "natural consequences" if a parent can save them from it. As with so much about parenting, I ask myself if I'd appreciate being treated the same way by another adult. For example, if I forgot my glasses, would I like my partner to simply leave them sitting on the kitchen table so I'd learn my lesson? Or would I want them to show me respect, consideration, and caring?
Protect your children from becoming tough.
One common argument against homeschooling is that children learn to toughen up in the harsh school environment. And that's often true. But do we want tough people in our world? Do we want people who have learned how to suppress their wild, wonderful uniqueness, tame their voices, and create layers of false selves to survive? And do we in any way want to support a "real world" which requires people to be like that? I personally want a more gentle, kind, loving world, and I believe the only way to get that is to raise our children to believe that it can be like that - to expect goodness rather than bullyuing - to be authentic in themselves, and open to others, and hopeful.
Don't force charity.
If someone required you to give a portion of your income to charity, would you truly feel like doing so? What if instead they showed you the circumstances of those less fortunate, and discussed with you the different things that can be done to help others. Perhaps then you'd not only be willing to donate money, but also your heart may be opened ito compassion in a more general sense. Why should it be any different for children?
Give them something to nurture.
Children aren't always ready for the complete responsibility of looking after a pet. But they can always be included in pet care. For example, asking them if they think the cat might be hungry ... if the dog might enjoy a run outside in the same way they do ... Helping them to develop a loving, caring, and sympathetic relationship with a creature over whom they have power.
Educate for the soul, not the mind.
I've written before about how education can be about the creation of relationships, and how I believe the hope for our future is in educating our children, through every subject, to bring kindness and love to the world. I don't know if this is even possible with regular public schooling, but still I dream.
So these are some of my ideas. Do you have any to share? I would love to read them.