I want my boys to be compassionate towards those around them – those in their family, those in their class or in their work place, and also those in the community that they do not know personally. This list may be relevant to girls, as well, but as a mother of boys I find the dynamics of teaching skills like empathy and homemaking are simply different than I imagine they would be if I had daughters.
Here are some simple ways I am working to develop compassion in my young sons on an everyday basis.
Normalize compassion – and expect it.
Children are naturally compassionate. They will give a hug when someone gets hurt, become anxious or even cry when another child cries. I like to encourage my boys when they respond compassionately but not make it such a huge deal that they think something abnormal is going on. For example I might respond with, “That was very kind of you to give your friend a cuddle after he fell down” instead of “Wow great job! I am SO proud of you!” (I am guilty of having the latter response and witnessed the surprise on my son’s face like, “Wasn’t that what I was supposed to do? Why is she overreacting?”) Basically responding as if this behavior is just what we do… not something out of the ordinary. Equal praise and encouragement to any other positive behavior they have displayed, such as being brave on the slide or sharing a toy. Consistent reinforcement that this is the behavior we expect and value in our family.
Incorporate compassionate behavior into play.
Role play caring for others. This is fun and easy to do with a dress up box. Doctors can care for patients, superheroes can rescue people in burning buildings, builders can make homes for families who don’t have a home, and veterinarians can take care of sick pets. Don’t forget to put some parenting type play items in your son’s dress up box, as well. Dolls, baby food, a blanket, and baby carriers are wonderful items for boys to play with.
Give them jobs that include caring for others.
Setting the table, sorting the laundry, and washing a sibling’s hair are everyday jobs that can help boys realize that caring for others is a part of everyday life… it is not something they should have to be asked to do, but something they should immediately be drawn to doing because they are a member of the family who wants to help out. Compassionate behavior is something they should learn to expect of themselves. I think in order to make these types of roles natural and comfortable for our boys, we have to actively involve them in the process of learning these habits… not give them as “chores” (with a reward) but as regular jobs. It is not always easy for me to include my boys in the cooking and cleaning (it’s much quicker to do myself…) but it’s a long-term investment that will pay off. I have to remind myself of this every day. When my boys walk into someone’s house whether that is a friend or a stranger, I want them to be on the lookout for ways to help and feel confident offering help where it’s needed.
Have fun serving others together.
Make a meal for someone who is having a hard time, or send a card to someone who is not well. Involving boys in the process, just making it a regular part of life, will help them develop a compassionate response to those around them. Sometimes these opportunities occur naturally, and sometimes they have to be organized and planned. Honor their suggestions when they have an idea to help someone else. Give them opportunities to problem solve and find ways to make someone else happy. If you are looking for simple ways your family can serve others, you may like to check out my list of 52 acts of kindness for young families.
Give them plenty of time to observe compassionate male role models.
This may be a father, grandfather, teacher, or neighbor. Make sure they see men in compassionate roles, whether that is mowing a friend’s lawn, doing grocery shopping for a sick relative, or giving a friend moral support on the phone… things the men decided to do of their own accord, not because they “had” to. I think our boys will be empowered by seeing men in caring, respectful relationships with others, so they can envision themselves in the future and aspire to doing the same thing.
In essence, I want to give my sons the opportunity to practice compassion by gently creating the circumstances and leaving plenty of space for this virtue to flourish.
This is just my personal list of objectives that I am working towards as my sons grow up. Writing it out helps me organize my thoughts and have practical goals to work towards… I am not perfect by any means but am striving every day, just like any other parent. You can read more of my parenting articles by clicking here.
Do you have other ideas about how to nurture compassion in boys?
Please share in the comments, I would love to hear from you!
Here are some other articles I have written from the perspective of being a mom to boys:
This post was featured on The Good Men Project and The Shriver Report.
This is such a great post Chelsea! I know I have done several of these things with my girls (my son is only a baby) and they really do help. I love seeing them take care of their sick babies in pretend play, and helping them send cards, and praying for those who are sick. Great piece! I am pinning this to my “Instilling Values in Children” pinterest board. Thanks!
Chelsea Lee Smith
Oh doesn’t it melt your heart when young kids want to be the parent and take care of babies?! It is just so darling. Both of my boys go through stages of talking about being daddies and having their own kids. It’s so heartwarming to hear them putting themselves in a position of caring for others. Thanks for your comment, and for sharing! x
I think the play element is so important when they are little… giving my boys as many opportunities to role play caring behaviors as my girls had at a similar age is so important. Standing up for their right to be compassionate, caring, and feeling humans is also important… our society is so quick to tell boys not to cry, or to discourage them from playing with dolls… I sometimes feel like I have to work harder to show my boys that caring is ok!
Loved this post on such an important topic!
Chelsea Lee Smith
I can’t compare having boys with having girls, but I do think that I wouldn’t be thinking about this topic as much if I only had girls. It would just seem “natural” to teach them to care for others. With my boys, I feel I have to *make sure* I focus on this, because I don’t think it necessarily feels like a “normal” thing to do. Why is this so… it seems so counter productive. Every person in society should be encouraged to be compassionate!
Thanks for the insightful comment. x
Sharing this everywhere today. Compassion is my guiding word for 2014, and I see empathy and compassion linked together with my boys. For my 4 year-old, empathy comes naturally to him and I just try to nurture it. 🙂
Chelsea Lee Smith
Thank you so much Jennifer! It’s a topic very close to my heart – and one that is not always easy to express, so thanks for your support xx
Ana Maria Bastidas
When my children were little we would all volunteer at a shelter or other so ail service organization during the holy days such as Easter, Christmas, even thanksgiving.
During Christmas time we sorted the children toys and gave toys for a toy drive every year.
To develop virtues we picked a virtue we would all work on and after a family discussion on ways to display the virtue we would act on the ideas that we had discussed.
Chelsea Lee Smith
Love the dinner exercise, beautiful. How inspirational to make it part of your family’s routine to give during the holidays.
One of the main mediums of communication and exposure which impact heavily on children, over which many parents exercise too little control is television and media reports. News sells bcz its sensationalised to a large extent. not all Children are capable to differentiate. Parents and even grandparents seldom have enough time to explain to the child issues in need of clarification and on a level that the child can understand it. So misperceptions grow and these misperceptions often permeates into adulthood. Hence our many social ills in society.