Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teaching Compassion

Some of you may want to skip this post and the following picture.
The picture below is of three baby nearly newborn kittens, on a towel, in a plastic bin, left on top of one of my shelters on Short Street this morning.  The second I saw it, my heart broke.  I quickly touched them and knew they had been dead for a while.  Whoever left it - what were they thinking?  They obviously had some compassion because of the towel.  Could they have saved them?  Were they already dead when they found them?  Why did they leave this on my shelter?  I might not ever know.  I brought them home, picked each one up gently, and laid them all together, side by side, on a small soft blanket.  They will be buried today on my property.  Heartbreaking, for sure, especially in light of the eight little kittens that have survived and are flourishing after Kristin rescued them from sickness and despair, and were medicated and socialized under mine, and several other people's hands. Which by the way, five are being spayed/neutered today.  Yes, this truly affected me.

There is an 11-year old boy named Colton. If you remember, last year, for his birthday, he asked his friends to donate money to me in lieu of gifts for himself.  Last week on his walk home from school, he encountered a dying squirrel and several students who were threatening to further torture the squirrel by throwing rocks at it or running over it while still alive on their bikes.   He challenged the kids, stood in front of and protected the squirrel then called 911, letting them know it was a non-emergency and asked them to please send animal control who came and collected the squirrel. Just like I would do for a dying deer, he did the same for this squirrel.  What happened after that is a shame.  Kids at school have been bullying him and mocking him for doing so.  Some parents heard the story from their kids and told their kids that Colton was a 'pussy' for doing that, and he should not have called 911. School’s been informed of the incident, fully support Colton’s actions and are keeping an eye on the culprits named but there’s little they can do to keep the kids from calling him names or harassing him off school grounds.  Colton is standing up for what he believes in, and standing up to others who lack the compassion I believe should be instilled in every child. I’m so relieved in this crazy-mixed up world that’ there are kids like Colton to protect animals and do the right thing. I’m glad and proud to know him!

What are we teaching our children at home?  Is it a teachers responsibility to instill compassion in children, even if their parents are teaching them the opposite at home?  If the parents don't do it, can't we have our teachers do it?

I take the following from an article I read recently, and its spot on.

"The answer isn’t as complex as it might seem. Like many college students who became committed to social and environmental causes, Danielle talked about developing compassion at a young age. When her father took her to visit nursing homes as a child, Danielle said, “I could see how much people were hurting there and how they appreciated our presence. Learning compassion for people I didn’t know is something that’s stuck with me.”

Developing compassion in elementary and middle school-aged children is akin to developing muscle strength. The more you use your muscles, the stronger they get. Children learn compassion through many experiences, including caring for the family pet. But children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically-engaged adolescents and adults. During the teen years, they reach deep within themselves, access these muscles, and develop social and civic identities that last a lifetime.
Regarded as one of the greatest human virtues by all major religious traditions, compassion is an emotional response and attitude toward others that is deeply empathetic. It enables us to connect to human suffering with care and understanding, acting in ways that brings comfort to those around us. Compassion causes us to remain charitable, even if others behave negatively. Research shows that compassion plays a key role in helping children develop into engaged, caring, and optimistic adults.

Children Practice Compassion Through Involvement

Research on the positive effect of class projects and after-school activities that develop compassion continues to grow. Scouts, church groups, and programs like GenerationOn’s Kids Care Clubs provide excellent ways for children to learn skills and practice compassion in their communities. Resources abound for adult leaders and classroom teachers to help implement meaningful hands-on service projects, locally, nationally, and globally.
GenerationOn, the youth division of Points of Light Institute, helps inspire and mobilize children to use their energy, ingenuity and compassion to make their mark on the world by doing small acts that develop their compassionate muscles. Many resources are available for download including projects focused on the environment, animals, homelessness, hunger, literacy, and seniors. I encourage you to access this material and help your child, classroom, or after-school groups transform compassion into action to benefit others.

Three Ways to Instill Compassion at Home

compassionDeveloping compassion in children involves all adults stepping up to do their parts – families, teachers, clergy, and community leaders. But we know from research that one of the most important places that compassion is learned is in the home. In my research study, Civic Learning at the Edge: Transformative Stories of Highly Engaged Youth, college students like Danielle, said their parents instilled compassion at home, an inner strength that guided their actions as they became teenagers. Ways families instill compassion include:

1. Provide Opportunities to Practice Compassion

Compassion cannot be learned by talking about it. Children must practice compassion in their daily lives. Difficult encounters with family members, classmates, and friends present opportunities for kids to put themselves in another’s shoes – to practice empathy. They also learn compassion when they practice giving without the need to gain anything in return, when they are with people or animals who are suffering, and when they experience the internal reward of feeling appreciated.

2. Help Children Understand and Cope with Anger

Anger is one of the greatest hindrances to compassion because it can overwhelm children’s minds and spirit. Yet there are times when anger yields energy and determination. The Dalai Lama, in his article Compassion and the Individual, suggests we investigate the value of our anger. We can help children by asking how their anger will help solve a problem or make their lives happier. We can help them see both the positive and negative sides of anger, and how holding onto anger leads to unreliable and destructive outcomes.

3. Teach Children to Self-Regulate

Antidotes to anger come through compassion and self-regulation, the ability to stop or delay an action rather than behaving impulsively. Children should understand that regulating their anger is not a sign of weakness. Instead, a compassionate attitude is an internal strength. Praise children when they regulate themselves, making sure they understand the power of their calmness and patience. Always encourage elementary and middle school children to talk about their anger with a supportive adult. Teaching compassion doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to aggression in others. We all know that children get bullied and are often not treated fairly by peers. If remaining calm only encourages more aggression, then we must also help children take a strong stand without retaliatory anger.
Inspiring a spirit of volunteering in elementary and middle school helps kids develop their compassionate muscles – muscles they will use over and over again as they reach adolescence and adulthood. Once you help your children begin this process, make sure they get lots of practice month after month. The world can never get too much compassion!


  1. Hi Janine. Wow. What a terrible, shocking thing to be confronted with this morning. But I think you're right - whoever left them definitely had compassion for them. They took the time to place them in a soft towel and put them in a place where they knew they would be found by someone who would know what to do. Obviously the people there know what you are doing and support you from afar. Many people may have found them and just left them. The person who found these kittens did the best they could for them. And now you will take it from there and honor their short lives with a proper burial. It's so sad. And yet, there was compassion in the actions of whoever left them to you. They did their best. I truly believe that.

  2. Colton is a brave young man and obviously was brought up properly. Kudos to him and his parents. As for the little punks and their ignorant parents who have allowed their kids to bully Colton for his compassionate and brave stance, Shame on them!! and hopefully someday they get some of their own medicine so they may see what it feels like.

    Walt Simoni

  3. As Colton's mom, he means the world to me. That he thinks often about the world around him and takes action instead of choosing a passive stance is a reflection of his spirit. Since he was able to talk and walk, he's been an ambassador of love and an advocate for the underdog. I see great things from Colton always and suspect he'll be drawn to a vocation where helping animals, people or the world at large to become a better place is his destiny. I hate that I have to explain that what naturally occurs to us is not embraced by other families, and that being on the side of compassion is more often the harder path than the other. I support him in all the ways a mother can during times he feels alone in his combat against cruelty by encouraging him to stay true to himself. I remind him that throughout history, those that saw the world for the way it wasn’t -but could be, commonly met opposition and felt persecution. History and your mother are telling you that it’s a choice to let those who ridicule you sink your ship, or patch the holes and prepare for battle another day. He's chosen the latter. ~ Rebecca

  4. Premature send: The baby kittens. I've thought about that and belive firmly that the care that went into the kittens was a best effort on someone's part. It would haunt me though to ponder the exact circumstances (like you). Disturbing way to start the day for sure. Not a rebuttal to the loss by any means but know that someone knows you would care. There's a connection to their efforts and yours of care and concern. sigh... sometimes things just don't make any more sense than to know you're not alone. Sorry that happened!

  5. Rebecca, Job WELL done on raising such an amazing young man!! I see evil on a daily basis and absolutely wondered if decent people still existed. I have found hope in people like your son, Janine, and anyone that helps defenseless critters. By the way, my Mom always told me I always 'voted for the underdogs.' She was right.... and I think turned out OK. I'm going to email Janine and ask for your contact info. I'd like to send a thank you to this fine young man.