How can you teach a kid compassion?
I’ve had this discussion with my wife many times. Is there some experience or exercise you can expose kids (and adults) to on a regular basis? Is there something we can do or see? Can we volunteer at a shelter, take a trip to help build a bridge somewhere or bring food to elderly neighbors?
All these seem live viable options, but is there something else we can do, some daily practice that can literally install or bump up compassion? Turns out, breaking research from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say yes!
Compassion can be taught and “installed” with meditation
Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples’ mental states, say .
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claim:
Positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.
The research suggests that individuals – from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression – and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices.
The study compared fMRIs of a group of 16 Tibetan monks who have practiced compassion meditation practice fro more than 10,000 hours and 16 age-matched controls with no previous training, who were taught compassion meditation two weeks before the study.
The control participants were asked first to concentrate on loved ones, wishing them well-being and freedom from suffering. After some training, they then were asked to generate such feelings toward all beings without thinking specifically about anyone.
After two-weeks, the fMRI scans revealed significant increased activity in the regions of the brain linked to emotion sharing and empathy.
[The effect] which was much more noticeable in the expert meditators as opposed to the novices, was very powerful…People are not just stuck at their respective set points..We can take advantage of our brain’s plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities.”
The researchers are interested in teaching compassion meditation to kids, particularly as they approach adolescence, as a way to prevent bullying, aggression and violence.
Seems I may have at least part of my answer about teaching compassion to my daughter.
Now, of course, the challenge is to make the training a part of Club Penguin!
Here’s what I’d love to know from you guys. It’s so important to me to teach my daughter the importance of empathy and compassion. I’ve even thought about taking family vacations to volunteer at an orphanage in Peru, but I just don’t feel safe enough with a wife and young daughter in certain parts of the world where it seems the most kindness is needed.
So, help me brainstorm a bit. What kind of experiences can I offer, either as a family, or just get my daughter involved in that might help her continue to evolve into a kind, empathethic, compassionate grown-up?
Let’s see if we can come up with a nice list in the comments…
As always, you guys rock!
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