Before I wrote this column I read a few web-based articles sent to me by my friend Mary Joslin. With the magic of internet links, I found a webcast of an event in Seattle, a conversation that took place in April 2008, "Planting the Seeds of Compassion". I continue to be grateful to Mary and others who provide me with seeds of ideas that I can share with you.
The five day event asked the question, "What can parents and caregivers do that will create a child who is compassionate, emotionally connected, and loving. Child development researchers spoke about the plasticity of the developing brains and how a baby's experience actually changes the physical structure of his brain. They shared some of their research with one of the wisest, most compassionate individuals on our planet, the fourteenth Dali Lama from Tibet who responded to their questions.
One researcher spoke of his research that was trying to get to the answer of the question, 'are children born with an innate compassion.' He first talked about how newborns immitate simple facial expressions such as opening the mouth or sticking out the tongue. Then he described three year old children observing a stranger/researcher who was pounding nails in a wall. After the third or fourth nail, the researcher 'accidently' hit his finger with the hammer, and showed by his voice and facial expressions that this hurt greatly. The three-year olds in the study became concerned, to the point of a child walking over to the researcher and offering his own special teddy bear as a comfort. Compassion.
Another researcher spoke of 3 year old who had been expelled from his preschool because of violent behavior: throwing a chair when he became angry and stating, "Don't touch me," and "I'll kill you." The researcher met with the parents and learned that an upsetting event had occurred at home a few days before. The father had lost his job and in his fear became angry with the mother, throwing a telephone at her. In her fear, the mother responded with "Don't touch me or I'll kill you!" In the heat of the moment, neither thought to pay attention to the little boy who now was very much afraid. When the little boy had an upset in preschool, he used the tools he had learned at home to cope with his own fear and anger.
This story had a positive end. When the parents understood how their behavior had put fear into their child the father opened his arms and his child came into his father's arms for a hug. The parents took responsibility for their actions and apologized for making him afraid. Through this act of apology, they rebuilt the bridge of compassion and love with their child.
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