How do we keep our children engaged in a world that allows them to have a childhood, that allows them to have compassion for themselves and for others?
This is a big question nowadays—when there is competing idea of what childhood looks like—For example—technology—do you know that the average child gets a cell phone at the age of 10?
Or that 1 in 4 girls or 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18?
Or that extreme obesity is increasing the most in children ages 2-5 years.
Teaching kids about empathy, kindness, and compassion is a must for schools. More than one out of every five students report being bullied. Of those students:
• 13% were made fun of, called names, or insulted
• 12% were the subject of rumors
• 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
• 5% were excluded from activities on purpose
In our nation’s high schools, school fights are routinely recorded on cell phones by a surrounding mob, cheering on the violence and then posting the videos on social media. The i-SAFE foundation states that over “25% of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.”
Here’s a look at the research, and how to introduce a kindness and compassion strand to your SEL practice.
To keep our children healthy, happy, and engaged we need to be vigilant, supportive, compassionate, and mostly kind to help them have the childhood we just described—especially in competing pandemics—which means that children all over the world in record numbers our children childhoods are being compromised by trauma and weight-related health issues, like type 2 diabetes.
So how do we do this? —Keep children safe, engaged, and becoming their best selves. We try by continuing to cultivate compassion within ourselves and our children which can help us be more compassionate towards others.
What are some of the ways you cultivate compassion?
One thing we know from that those terrible statistics I just shared is that children need a lot of compassion during this child obesity epidemic, child sexual abuse pandemic and the increase of isolation due to technology. And children will need to learn to be more compassionate to themselves and to others. How do we focus on teaching children to becoming more compassionate to themselves and others? How do we become more vigilant role models for our children?
Research reveals that doing good deeds, or kind acts, can make socially-anxious people feel better. For four weeks, the University of British Columbia researchers assigned people with high levels of anxiety to do kind acts for other people at least six times a week. The acts of kindness included things like holding the door open for someone, doing chores for other people, donating to charity, and buying lunch for a friend. The researchers found that doing nice things for people led to a significant increase in people's positive moods. It also led to an increase in relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals.
Acts of kindness create an emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a "cardioprotective" hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Can compassion be taught?
In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”
Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.
“It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”