By Victor Parachin
When she was in sixth grade, Stephanie Taylor heard about a police dog that was shot in the line of duty in Newark, New Jersey. “People in Newark were raising money to buy bulletproof vests for police dogs. I wondered why I couldn’t do the same thing,” said the San Diego 11-year-old. Stephanie made flyers and posted them. She also created hand-painted donation boxes, asking veterinary clinics and pet stores if she could place them on their premises. Soon local newspapers reported on her efforts and money began coming in. Before long she collected $25,000—enough to buy 56 vests, outfitting every police dog in San Diego County. “Police dogs risk their lives every day to help protect us,” Stephanie said. “We should protect them too!”
Stephanie is an excellent example of a compassionate child. She is able not only to feel empathy but turn that feeling into righteous action. Stephanie is the type of young person author Emma Goldman had in mind when she wrote: “No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.”
Here are some suggestions for raising righteous children:
Be the role model for righteousness. James 3:13 advises: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done.” Let your children see you being gentle, speaking softly, acting kindly, and refraining from rudeness. If you expect your children to be compassionate and righteous, they first must see this behavior in their parents and other important adults in their lives.
Paul J. Donahue, PhD., author of Parenting Without Fear, offers this reminder: “As parents, we have to remember one thing: our kids are always watching. Even preschoolers take special notice when their parents get out of joint, and recognize a tone or a look that says more than parents may think it does. I have heard lots of kids repeat things that would make their parents cringe. ‘Mommy was angry with my teachers’; ‘Daddy yelled at the man in the red car.’”
Reserve your highest praise for children when they act righteously. Many adults seem to reserve their highest praise for children because of intellectual or athletic accomplishments. These children are most complimented when they achieve distinction in one of these two areas.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin asked: “Is it healthy for children who are very smart or athletic to be raised to believe that these talents and abilities are truly what is most important about them?”
The ideal time to compliment a young person is whenever he or she acts in kind, compassionate, loving ways. That way you extend and expand loving attitudes through another generation. “Think about that for a moment,” said Rabbi Telushkin. “A generation of people who most like themselves when they are doing good. What a world that would be!”
Share what others have said about righteous living. One father, wanting to instill the importance of compassion and kindness in his children, had these quotes framed, placing them where they would be seen several times daily:
“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”—Arthur Ashe
“Giving is the secret of a healthy life. Not necessarily money, but whatever a person has of encouragement, sympathy and understanding.”—John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
“Small deeds done are better than large deeds planned.”—Peter Marshall
“A good heart is better than all the heads in the world.”—Edward Bulwer-Lytton
“Religion that is pure and good before God the Father is to help children who have no parents and to care for women whose husbands have died.”—James 1:27 (New Life Version)
Help children move from sympathy to action. Encourage your children, when they express sympathy for another’s problem, to turn that sympathy into action.
During one bitterly cold winter, then 9-year-old Arielle King of Albany, New York, spotted children without gloves, hats, or socks on their way to school. She felt not only a twinge of sympathy but also a call to action. A member of Macedonia Baptist Church, she approached her minister to see if she could ask church members to donate gloves, hats, and socks for needy children. She addressed her concern to the congregation and, after two Sundays, gathered 856 items of clothing. The church also donated $400 to her cause. Next, Arielle wrote a letter to principals of nine schools, asking if she could distribute the clothing items to their students. With some adult help, she did.
Ask your child how it would feel to be in someone else’s shoes. This very technique was expressed by God in Exodus 23:9: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt” (NIV).
Angie, a mother of three, was concerned when her 8-year-old-daughter began complaining and making derogatory comments about the man who drove her school bus. Sitting with her daughter, Angie challenged her to feel what it would be like to be in the bus driver’s situation. Gently, Angie encouraged her daughter to ask herself: “How would it feel to get up early in the morning while it’s still dark and go to work to drive the bus? How would it feel to sit down in a cold bus before the heater warmed it up? How would it feel to be responsible for all the students who got on the bus? How would it feel if a student said something rude to you?”
Make it a family affair. Denise Griep became frustrated with meetings, community events, and sports practices which pulled her family in different directions. She and her husband wanted something that would bring them together in a meaningful way. Through their church they volunteered to help a Somali family who had just arrived in the United States from a refugee camp in Kenya.
Every weekend for a year, the Grieps and their three children tutored seven Somali children. The Griep’s 16-year-old daughter helped the older Somali boys with algebra. They shopped for school supplies and inflatable mattresses and also took the Somali family for bowling, pizza, and a movie. “You can only coach so many sports teams,” says Denise. “It just seemed like we had the time and the resources to do this. Our kids are learning about Africa and Somalia, a different religion, and refugee camps. That’s a whole education in itself. And I always feel like every minute I spend on this is well spent.”
With a little creativity and consistency, adults can raise children who are compassionate, not calloused. Children who, through their compassionate words and righteous deeds, help make the planet a gentler and kinder place.
Victor Parachin is a freelance writer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Parenting godly kids can be stressful and overwhelming. Don’t feel guilty if you need help—everyone does. That’s why God puts people in community.
Find a parent or two who have been at it longer than you and whom you’d like to emulate. Ask to spend time with them—and their kids—on a regular basis so you can glean wisdom and encouragement from them. They can provide wisdom and listening ears for situations you’re facing right now.