Children and COVID COVID19 Teaching Compassion

Lessons From the Pandemic: Teaching Compassion to Kids in the Time of COVID

teaching compassion to kids COVID
Children learn compassion by watching the adults around them.

Some of the many lessons that children have had the opportunity to learn over the last year have nothing to do with Zoom school.  

In any year but 2020 (and for many, continuing into the early months of 2021), parents and kids normally see very little of each other during waking hours. The upside down reality that we have come to inhabit has given children a front row seat, to a greater degree than ever before, to their parents’ interactions with all manner of individuals, from delivery drivers to grocery clerks to people in stores, on the street, and in their neighborhoods. 

Today, after doing my grocery shopping, I was waiting in front of the store for my Uber ride. There was a man in the parking lot asking people for gas money. He had a slight limp and was walking with a cane. He approached shoppers getting into their cars, getting out of their cars, walking into the store. Most turned him down. A few (I would estimate less than ten percent) gave him a dollar or two. 

One woman got out of her car with two children, a boy who looked to be about 10 and a girl around six years old. The man approached her and made his request, and she told him that she didn’t have any money. As the family walked to the store entrance, I heard her daughter ask her why the man had asked for cash. The mother replied, “That’s what you use to buy gas.” 

Children learn compassion by observing adult role models. Parents teach their kids all day long, whether they’re aware of it or not, and, according to cross-cultural behavioral studies, kids are hard-wired to copy them. And those lessons are profound and long-lasting. 

That young girl will remember her mother’s action — or lack of action — with the gentleman in the parking lot. It will likely shape the way she behaves when asked to help someone else when it’s not convenient or appealing to her. And when she learns, at some point in the not-too-distant future, that half-truths are a way to evade the suffering of others, she may decide that fibbing is an easy way to avoid practicing compassion. 

COVID-19 has brought an enormous number of teaching moments in its tumultuous wake. So many of these moments, however, boil down to taking the time to recognize the humanity of those around us. A small gesture like paying for someone else’s gas with a credit card, buying coffee for the person behind you in line, meeting another’s eyes above their mask to make human contact, taking a moment to reflect before typing out a harsh comment on social media, are small things that make a cumulative difference. 

When life is hard, practicing compassion can help us. It reminds us that we always have something to give others, even when we feel depleted. And this is an essential understanding for kids — that even when they are feeling fearful, uncertain or sad, they have resources to draw on to help themselves as well as those around them. 

Teaching compassion to children is a way to help make their lives happier as well as making them better neighbors and citizens. Adding compassion to the curriculum can make the world a better place, one kind gesture at a time. 

Loren Freed
Health and Wellness Writer 615-578-8873