Compassion Overview

Compassion is urged by all the world’s great religions and is a quality that defines a civilized person. The process of developing compassion begins at birth but takes years and years to develop. All children are born self-involved—a necessary quality for human survival and consistent with how the brain develops. 

There are many small pieces that, combined, result in a person becoming a compassionate person. These are explored here.

Within this space, we will also, from time to time,  feature what we call the HERO CHILDREN, those young people who have gone above and beyond for someone else. Let us know if you know of someone who fits that criteria.

It’s All About Me

If our new-born children arrived with the ability to talk, they would tell us that they are the center of the universe—at least their universe. New babies do not possess the ability to distinguish themselves from others, and it really is all about them.

This ability to understand that someone else is separate is basic to the growth of empathy which is basic to the development of compassion. Having that cognitive understanding that other people may be like you in some ways but different in others because they are separate is one half of the needed foundation for compassion. Developing that understanding requires time for the brain to  develop. We look for signs that a child is beginning that understanding around the age of three, and while it’s not possible to rush that development, it is possible to make it conscious by naming what you see.

“Henry doesn’t like that.”

“Luke is smiling because you shared the truck.”

The next step is emotional and this occurs because, for many children, emotions are contagious. They are able to pick up social cues, often with our verbal help, by equating another child’s display of emotion with their own experience.

“”When you hit Eva, she cried because it hurt.”

“Oh look. Jacob fell down. Let’s go help him.”

Being self-centered is how we all begin. Understanding that you are separate from others and beginning to see that other person as capable of feelings is a developmental progression, and we’re beginning to understand more and more of how the development of the brain during the early years influences physical, emotional and social behavior.

What can we do to help?

  • Name what is going on calmly and in a non-angry way.
  • Be patient
  • Never use fear as a motivator. Fear shuts down parts of the brain and can create permanent problems.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction. Contact with others is necessary for  brain development.

Work to reduce stress-for you, for the family, and for your child.

Some children, including those who have been abused, neglected, traumatized or who have Asperger’s Syndrome need more or different help and we’ll discuss those issues in future articles.

Click here to read our articles on compassion.

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