Thursday, January 6, 2011

Little Adults and Big Kids: A Lesson in Compassion

Little Adults and Big Kids: A Lesson in Compassion

As always, (and as much as I hate them) my essays/personal research are my proudest work each semester.  After all, you get out what you put in, and since Social Sciences is majorly a comprehensive study, this especially holds true as I pin point my particular areas of interest.  Namely that area of interest has been two things: volunteerism and children.  Come to think of it, I am on a quest for altruism (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).  Altruistic people primarily think of the betterment of the world and others first, and childhood is somewhat vital area where that can begin to be developed or lost.

Anyway, that leads me to last semester essay entitled “Compassionate Kids”.   I’ve come up with theories in the past years about child development, mainly dealing with volunteerism and goal setting/realizing potential.  This year, I was greatly affected and deeply saddened about the recent media stories on bullying.  However, as other people in my class were writing about that, I had to be different and took a different approach, not specifically dealing about bullying, but on how a negative based media can affect kids (and everyone) and instilling compassion so that negativity can be overcome.

With that said, I’d like to briefly talk about a few books I read for my child psych class (which at the beginning of the semester, I was a bit worried about from the extensive list).  One Child is about a little girl, about to be thrown into a psych ward (she had burned a 2yr old boy) and seemed to be just an “evil” child with no hope.  However, with the influence of her teacher Torey Hayden, she became polite, compassionate, and flourishes.  We also read “Horse Boy” about a child with autism and his parent’s quest to “heal” him with nature, horses, and shamans.  Then there was A Child Called “It” (and the sequel) about a boy who is severely abused and neglected by his mother and still flourishes.  Last, the class read “Please Stop Laughing at Me”, where the author delves into her child memories and relives her past of getting bullied in school.  This book shocked me.  First off, she was neither ugly nor “weird”, just emotionally advanced.  Second, I kept asking myself “could kids really be so mean?!?”  This girls was verbally and physically abused by her peers for doing…nothing except being herself and standing up for others (even the developmentally disabled).  Adults would often ignore her.  From a researcher’s perspective, her second book “Please Stop Laughing at Us” was even more interesting and profound for me, as she talked about her advocacy work on going into school to talk about bullying and revealing her ideas and steps on how to overcome and eliminate bullying.  I highly suggest you check out her website at, which will also give you better ways on how to more productively talk to children.

As much as I hated school, I feel lucky to have gone to the schools I have, for I cannot recalled being bullied.  In her book, Blanco explains that most of the bullied children are “Ancient Childs” or, old souls, simply having a more developed emotional and empathy range.  For some reason, people (including me) have trouble admitting to this (whether they feel it is bragging or embarrassing).  But I know I have always been an old soul.  I always felt separated from my peers.  I remember feeling lonely, depressed, but thankfully never bullied, just a few instances of being looked down upon.  Being an Ancient Child is something to be proud of.  Instead of asking children like that to act normal, we should be working on ways to enhance compassion in all kids so we can all reach a heightened state of altruism.  With that, here is my essay:


            My topic is compassion in children and how it is developed within them throughout the course of their life.  It is a sociological concern, as it deals with their interaction with others as well as how they are affected by popular media.
            While this is a universal topic, I am primarily focusing on the American society.  It searches for answers as to how children become, or do not become, compassionate people.  Today, kids are forgetting their manners and how to respect one another.  Crime, bullying, and simply being rude are becoming to prevalent of problems in our society.  However, I believe this can be prevented from developing into a bigger problem by parents, teachers, and all American adults worked to spread kindness amongst each other and showed children how to do the same.
            My sources include:
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Peer-reviewed journals
Personal field experience
            To conduct my research, I searched the internet for various websites dealing with compassion and bullying.  I also used the computer to find peer reviewed journals and newspaper articles to support my claim.  In addition, I preformed field research at my job as an assistant and an in-home daycare.

Compassionate Kids

Often times, after seeing news reports on people physically hurting each other or watching people hurt one another emotionally in everyday life, I’m reminded of the Black Eyed Peas song “Where is the Love?” Lately, I have seen too much hostility in the world around me.  I have to question where negative behavior begins. Don’t parents teach their children to love and respect one another anymore?  Or is a person’s compassion simply part of their nature, or who they are? 
In most respects, I believe all humans are embedded with a loving nature.  However, while love may be part of a human’s nature, it has to be nurtured too.  A child must be taught to share, not to hit, and say “please” and “thank you”.  Just like watering a flower, parents, teachers, and other prevalent people in a child’s life must sprinkle them with kindness so they too can flourish. Otherwise, it is easy for the animalistic “survival of the fittest” instinct to take over and a person will take whatever they want to satisfy themselves.  Due to the fact that humans have a want to be accepted and to please, another person’s feeling may not be in account when they hurt someone else in order to feel better about themselves.
If kids, even infants, were taught at a young age to be compassionate, maybe there would not be so many problems in the world.  Instead of destruction, there would only be building…the building of nations, the building of better cities in impoverished areas, the building of oneself for a better life.  If children were taught how to be kind to one another, then maybe we would not have to see so many stories in the news of teen suicide, partially due to bullying by their peers.  No person should ever have to feel so depressed to believe his/her life is not worth living.  A word of encouragement instead of a crude remark could be all the difference.
Instead of blaming kids solely for their actions, people should take a look back and see what the world has taught them.  Have children been taught to love and to help someone else in need?  Even if they have, those teaching may only go so far if not reinforced.  Teaching compassion is difficult when that is the opposite of what most of the media and society shows.  Musicians cuss in their lyrics, the TV has news that features loss and destruction, series based on criminal investigations, reality shows that have adults criticizing one another, and video games let the player shoot at their animated opponent. 
The best proof I have a of child’s sense of compassion being affected by America comes directly for the words of children.  In 2007, the topic for the Kid Philosophy Slam was “Compassion or Violence: Which has a greater impact on society?”  Only the kindergartener and 1st grader really preached compassion.  Ani Carigan, voted Most Philosophical Kindergartner in America, wrote “Even if you do not like somebody you help them.”  First grader Claire Thatch added to this with the idea that if you show compassion, other people might do it too.  Both of the children’s’ ideas are so simple, but so true.  Sadly, the other young writers’ start off their essays with the idea of violence, and all believe violence to be more influential than compassion.  None of them agree with violence, but they cannot deny the fact that it is one of the most prevalent things in America.  By age 8, most of them know this.  It is what they see and hear.  (Kids Philosophy Slam, 2007)
In 4th and 5th grade, the child writers still have hope.  Despite the world being overwhelmed in violence, they have hope in the greatness of compassion.  Cotrina Johnson speaks of interchanging violence with compassion, which would be taught to future generations.  Hanna Davis writes that all people have compassion, kindness, and love instilled within that can never be completely overshadowed by hate and violence.  She believes compassion can grow until there is no more room for violence.  Last, she boldly states that “those people who wish to stop the corruption of our world can make a difference if we try.”  Sadly, the older grades have none of this hope.  They have been too washed down by the negativity of their surroundings.  At only age 12, they have seen too much hate. (Kids Philosophy Slam 2007)
Children have seen enough hate that they spread it.  It is why bullying has become such widespread topic in recent months.  The bullying starts in grade school and continues on to high school, college, and then even the work place.  What effects do years of hateful a mean comments have on a person?  In some cases, the answer is suicide.  Currently, we are seeing and epidemic of suicides of young people.  In one of her columns Regina Brett writes of Andy Lehman, who committed suicide in his senior year of high school by stepping out in front of a truck on a highway.  His peers tormented him on the bus.  Their favorite nickname for him: Polar Bear.  While bullying was not the only reason for Andy’s despair, it was certainly a factor, a factor that did not even need to exist at all (Brett, 2010).
Under the same circumstances, Connie Shultz writes about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens who are under constant abuse for their sexual orientation.  In other words, they are being ridiculed for who they are.  This time the article’s subject is in college.  He jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate taped him having sexual interactions with another man and posted it as a live video.  Shultz asks “Where do kids ever get the idea that it is alright to harass and bully homosexuals?” (Shultz, 2010).
There are some people who will argue that bullying and violence has always existed and they are too powerful to overcome.  I ask “why?”  Why does it matter if they have always existed?  That does not mean it has no end.  Why are bullying and violence so powerful?  Are not people powerful only because we give them that power?  Others say that violence shapes our society…we need it!  I admit, it has and does have a large role in shaping our society, but it definitely does not need to.  People can change it.  There just needs to be enough people to want the change.  That brings up the last argument: people are either born good or bad.  Then why have some criminals been rehabilated and re-entered society as good citizens?  Why did Andy Lehman’s bully feel remorse after Andy died (Brett, 2010)?  Why, in the non-fictional book One Child, did a little girl name Shelia who had set fire to a small boy and once been known for her outbursts, become considerate and charming (Hayden, 1980)? It is because many people understand that others can change.  That is why learning right from wrong is so important as a child.
In a perfect world, all parents would show their children how to love, all teachers would teach their students how to be kind and treat one another with respect, and they would not have to see evidence of violence and hate in the media or outside their door.  They would grow up knowing compassion.  But we do not live in perfect world.  At a turn of a corner, a child can evidence part of the hostility in our world.  There may be no quick fix to that, but the citizens of today can certainly begin the change and teach our children how to resist negativity and spread kindness.  One of the best things that I think can be done is to start a class or program that teaches compassion and anti-bullying.  Just as children grow up, the program should progress with the children’s developmental and grade level. This will not shelter kids from the world, but it might give them the strength to persevere through the negativity and spread their goodness.
Therefore, it is time to focus on the positive and not the negative.  After all, that is what this essay is about.  It is not titled “Bullying”, “Violence in the World”, or a “Selfish Society”, but “Compassionate Kids” because that is my goal, to grow compassionate children.  Possibly it is my naiveté, but I believe by focusing on the good and how we can make a positive change, that it will reflect in our society and children.  Now it is time to look at how to grow compassionate kids.
As I previously mentioned, it would be ideal if a child’s surround environment would simply show them how to love, but few live in that ideal place and no one is fully sheltered from the hate.  But that is okay.  There are plenty of Americans out there who are willing to overcome society’s problems and help its’ children.  As much hate and violence there is in the country, there is a lot of love and kindness too.  Many people have that within them, and they serve as a great example, or role model, on how to nourish kids with compassion.  The More 4 Kids website offers a good outline on how to do so.  The first point states that the best place to start is right at the beginning in infancy, as the baby can feel the loving vibe.  At the toddler stage, it is important to communicate the benefits of compassion, how it helps society, and makes them feel part of the family or group.  Volunteering teaches a child how to give an put others first, without receiving anything in return except for feeling a sense of happiness and accomplishment for making a positive impact on society.  Last, read stories or myths that teach moral and ethical values, or tell of real heroes who became famous for their show of compassion and love, such at Martin Luther King Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi (Teaching Compassion to Children, 2009).
For children who live in an environment that is not cohesive to compassionate growth, there are several program that match up to grade levels mentioned on Utterly Global that have been introduced to schools.  The first one, entitle “Let’s be Friends” target children from preschool to 2nd grade.  It covers friendship, bullies, diversity, and standing up for oneself and others, and implements this with parent education, at-home reinforcement activities, interactive activities, songs, and posters.  Next, there is “No Excuse for Peer Abuse” for children in 3rd through 5th grade.  At this state, the program talks about the different types of bullying, what to do if your bullied, how to stand up for someone who is being bullied, and creating a bully-free environment.  Other parts to this include positive reinforcement by teachers for good behavior, education on diversity and acceptance, as well as empowering kids to spread kindness.   “Stand Up – Speak Out” for children in 5th-8th grade furthers in the education from the previous programs at a more in-depth level.  I would recommend these programs be enforced my teachers on a daily basis, and even have a portion of everyday, or a class a week, dedicated purely to compassion.  The challenge today is to put these programs or ones similar in every school (Utterly Global, 2010).
I have also had the opportunity in my college studies to create my own program, titled “Empowering Youth through Volunteerism” that uses volunteering as aim to empower children in their abilities while teaching the importance of social action.  It was my belief that this would lead to children having a kind-hearted demeanor, confidence in themselves, and the knowledge that they could make a difference in the world.  There were three parts to my program.  Part one deals with awareness, or helping children to understand some of the problems in the world around them.  From there, the program transitions into volunteering, making sure the kids know what it is and why it is important.  Part two is labeled learning and understanding, where the educator could talk about his/her volunteering experiences, and how it benefited other and them self. Part three was developed to initiate action.  The quote “children are our future” to “children are our present” letting the kids know that they did not have to wait until they were adults to make a difference.  This step required the children to talk about the problems they see, and then brainstorm solutions. The next step is essential for the educator to instill the belief that the children could make that change.  I followed this up with how they could make a difference on a daily basis, just by being nice to one another (see Appendix).
It is up to the citizens of today to create a compassion and loving society.  Children will soon pick up the positive energy and begin to create a better world now and for future generations.  Now, we need the older generations to stand up and be the enablers.  Too many adults to do not give children the credit they deserve, but we have so much we can learn from them.  Before the negativity in the world gets a hold of them, they are some of the most beautiful creatures in existence.  Together, people in society can make a difference, it just need to start with a little bit of compassion.

Works Cited
Brett, R. (2010, October 10). No one bothered to stop the bullies. Cleveland Plain Dealer, pp. B1, B11.

Goode, C. (2009). Teaching compassion to children. Retrieved from

Hayden, T. (1980). One child. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

“ Kids philosophy slam.” Questions: Philosophy for Young People 7 (2007): 5+. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 Oct.2010

Schultz, C. (2010, October 6). Parents of lbgt kids can't let bullies win. Clevleand Plain Dealer, p. NA.

Untterly Global. (2010, November 16). Antibullying programs. Retrieved from

Empowering Youth through Volunteering
Rachel and Sandi Nypaver

Target Audience: Andrews Osborne Academy 5th grade class (10 students) *
* While the objective of the program will remain the same, it is subject to change depending on the audience.
Program Outline:
 Intro: Rachel, Sandi, TJ
Part One: Awareness
Ø Water Example 1: Tell students we have one gift for one student in the class.  Present them with bottled water.
-Ask: Why is this such an important gift?  Why is there only one?
-Example 2:  “That means the rest of you will be walking 3 miles to drink this:” poor dirt into water.  Any takers? (Explain wells being dug for clean water)

Ø  Questions (candy for correct answers)
-Who remembers what could happen if you drink polluted drinking water?
That’s a problem other countries are facing, but what about the United States? What about Lake County?
              -Who knows what poverty is?
              -How many people in the United States live in poverty? (39.8 million)
              -What percent of people in Lake County live in poverty? (8.8%)
                 --That means one of you would be going home tonight to a house that may be falling
                apart of without any dinner.)
                 --Most people in poverty have to choose between a heating their house in winter or
                   food to eat, etc.)
             -Lake County has a number for people in need to call.  Last year, they helped over    
              30,000 callers. Can anyone guess how many people called to get help for food? (6,521)     
We’ve told you about these problems…but how can we fix them?        
              - Who knows what volunteering is?
              - Has anyone volunteered before? What did you do?
 Transition:  Why do you think volunteering is important?
Part 2: Learning and Understanding

Ø  We’d like to tell you about some of the things we’ve done… (Why we started SMAD and volunteer)
Ø  Slide show

Part 3:  Being the Future Present: Making a Difference Now
Ø  What are some of the problems you think your community (or school) is currently faced with?
Ø  Brainstorm solutions (Give each student paper to right this down and add to on their own.
Ø  Talk (instill belief) they can make a change now. 
Ø  Things they can do on a daily basis: education and being nice/doing little acts of kindness (compassion) for others.  Hand out “Pay if Forward” bracelets.

1 comment:

  1. I have a friend you and Sandi should also be friends with. She's the Program Director for a Non-profit called Little and Loud. I'll send you the link on FB.