My kids pushed each other out of the way as they both insisted, “No, it is my turn!” This may sound familiar– siblings fighting over who gets to do something special first. What will surprise you is what my children were fighting over–helping me with my seat belt.
In the winter I find it so arduous to take both my shoes off while getting my socks wet from the snow-drenched car floor while trying to maneuver around the bundles of winter layers to put my seat belt on. So occasionally I take the lazy root and ask for help buckling up. I knew one of them would help. I just didn’t predict they would both catapult themselves towards the front of the van, while shoving and exclaiming, “It’s my turn – I’ll do it!” I had to laugh a little. Who’s kids fight over helping their mom, at least at six and nine years of age? I am one lucky mom!
Kids with a disabled parent get real-life application when it comes to showing compassion.
Although I believe my children are innately compassionate; having a mother with a disability has exposed them to more opportunities to develop this virtue. Are they more compassionate and caring than other kids their age? I would say they are more aware and think about helping more often. They also do things for me that most kids wouldn’t think about doing for their moms. A few years ago when I went to sign a credit card slip, my daughter without hesitation held the paper still so it wouldn’t slide around. She had seen me ask cashiers to do the same, but I had never asked her to do this before. I was taken back by how thoughtful and intuitive she had become. She recognized a need before any request for help was made. My son is learning to be equally compassionate. It is heart-warming when he forewarns me of icy sidewalks and looks behind to make sure I haven’t fallen. They have both observed compassion being practiced in our home, so it is only natural that they have adopted it in their lives.
Kids that are raised to show compassion demonstrate it outside their families.
My children’s willingness to show compassion doesn’t end with me. When Elizabeth was in a half grade split, she was often drawn to helping younger struggling students with their work. Having also struggled with school, she understands how it feels. I have noticed particularly with her that having opportunities to show compassion is validating and confidence-building. Having a mother with a physical disability has helped my children better recognize when someone may need help.
Compassion doesn’t mean compliance.
I very rarely see my daughter complain over helping or showing kindness when it is needed. For example, if I need something taken down from a high shelf, she quickly consents, but if I ask her to complete a chore, she is like any other normal child… a little disgruntled about the interruption to her play. My son, Tarek, similarly behaves. He appears happy to carry things around for his teacher, or often opens or holds a door for me without being asked, but as his sister, he is a little put out if something disrupts a favourite show or game.
Compassionate kids feel good about themselves.
When my children are compassionate to others it makes them feel good. Isn’t that what we want for our kids and for any child we have influence over? I want my children to learn to be compassionate individuals, to develop empathy and to take notice of others in need and I want them to feel good about it. I have seen both of my children willingly engage younger children in play, not because they are ideal playmates to “boss” around, but because they feel good about showing kindness and practicing inclusion.
Lessons on compassion have life-long effects.
I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel when someone takes time out of their busy schedule to offer help or to show kindness. While shopping at Costco by myself, I went to lift my groceries out of my cart. The lady in front of me kind of glanced over and then looked away. The guy behind me, once he looked up from texting, apologized for not noticing sooner, and offered to finish the task and help me out to my vehicle. I thought, “That guy had been raised well.” Not to say the first wouldn’t have helped if I had asked, but I never ask strangers for help when I can do something on my own, and even if I decline help, I always appreciate the gesture. The truth is, I was struggling and I was surprised the lady seemed to ignore me. Maybe she thought I was more than capable or that I would be offended. Perhaps it didn’t occur to her that help would have been welcomed, or perhaps helping was just an inconvenience. The point is I want my children to grow up and be someone that does notice and offer help.
See also, “An Attitude Of Gratitude: It OK To Accept Help“
Modeling compassion is the best teaching method.
We can preach to our children about the importance of compassion until we are blue in the face, but until we model the behavior, I am not sure it will be adopted. Recently at a Walmart parking lot I saw an old lady sitting in her car overwhelmed by the snow that had slid from the top of her vehicle onto the front windshield. I quickly asked my kids to get out a snow scraper and to help her out. Given the person was a stranger to them, they were a bit hesitant. I went over with them and together Tarek and I worked at removing the snow for her. The situation reminded me that the task of teaching my children compassion is a lifelong lesson that not only needs to be talked about, but needs to be modeled. Just because I have a disability doesn’t mean I can’t help others. It was good for my children to see me help someone else even though it was hard for me. It is also good for them to see me show empathy, and treat others with love and respect.
My challenge to you is to look for opportunities help your children or those within your influence to develop empathy and I challenge you to model compassionate acts. Look up from your electronic device, slow down and offer help. Be a little kinder, be more patient, and be less critical and more understanding. And maybe, just maybe, we will all have more reason to feel good about ourselves.