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Can Compassion Be Learned? Guide To Nurturing Compassion In Children

by | September 24, 2018

Most humans are born with compassion. But can compassion be learned? When we are raising children, our role is to nurture that compassion and guide our children to follow their heart and do the right thing. Be kind to others, share, etc. The problem is, we teach what we ourselves have learned.

Of course, most of us have been taught to be kind, to share, to empathize with our fellow humans and usually with animals too, but most of us are also taught that eating some animals is ‘normal’. As we grow, our minds have a way of organizing these contradicting ideas. In essence, we lie to ourselves.

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Cognitive dissonance is the psychological state of holding opposing beliefs. How many times have you heard someone tell you how much they love animals as they bite into a cheeseburger? Many children pick up on contradictions like these but by the time we are adults, most of us have learned to tune out the nagging feeling that our actions are not matching up with our feelings. For adults, the trick is not to learn compassion, it is to reconnect with our inner voice; to be honest with ourselves.

So can compassion be learned and how can we nurture it in our children and encourage the adults in our lives to reconnect?

Empathy.

Understanding.

Patience.

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Children do not inherently know right from wrong or what it means to be gentle and kind- that’s why they need a bit of help to figure out that they shouldn’t hit or bite us or snatch toys away from other children. They know that they don’t like it when the same thing happens to them and we use that as the basis of teaching them to empathize with others; both humans and animals. We talk about animals in a way that confirms what children already know: they are just like us. They have feelings and they deserve to be happy and healthy. Empathy is one of the best tools when wondering can compassion be learned. 

Adults already know these things but cognitive dissonance is at play. They have been told their whole life that eating animals is normal for a variety of reasons. They’ve been taught from childhood that they need animal products to be healthy. They have created justifications for the actions that don’t align with their feelings.

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ow do we teach adults to respect all sentient beings? How do we convince them that they are not being honest with themselves? Every person is different. Many vegans make the transition after being shocked by a documentary or a piece of information shared with them by an animal rights activist but the same events may cause another person to plunge deeper into denial. Know your audience and arm yourself with relevant information from reliable sources.

Patience and understanding are key. Activist Earthling Ed advocates for calm, rational discussion, noting that most people will form an impression of veganism based on their first conversation with a vegan. Most of us grew up with the same confusing messages so it shouldn’t be hard to put ourselves in their shoes.

So can compassion be learned? Yes, but of course, the easiest way to teach anything is by example. Go Vegan, Raise Vegan.

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Kate Timmins

First-time mama living in Adelaide, South Australia. When I’m not at home enjoying the company of my partner, our gorgeous baby boy, and our five rescue cats I love to spend my time walking along our local beaches and trying new foods from the growing number of vegan eateries in our city. I’m proud to be a foster carer for my local animal rescue; I believe that saving one animal may not change the world, but it will change the world for that animal! Follow me on Instagram for cats, baby, beaches, and tasty vegan food.

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