As they grow and change and learn about the world around them, kids are full of questions. Those questions aren’t always easy for their parents or the other adults within their lives to answer. But the conversations around those questions can play a vital role in helping children develop compassion.
In her new book, Oregon State’s Shauna Tominey offers parents, caregivers and other adults who work with young children tips and tools for navigating those important and sometimes difficult conversations about everything from learning and making mistakes to love, relationships and divorce to race, sex and gender.
“Creating Compassionate Kids: Essential Conversations to Have with Young Children,” published by W.W. Norton & Co., is available in stores and online this week.
“If parents are wondering whether they should talk with their kids about a topic, then the answer is probably yes,” says Shauna, an assistant professor of practice and parenting education specialist in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Be open and honest with your child and let them know it’s OK to talk with you about anything. Kids have lots of sources of information as they get older, and if they are not comfortable coming to you, they will learn to rely on others.”
Shauna drew on years of experience as a parent, educator, former preschool teacher and early childhood researcher to write “Creating Compassionate Kids.”
“One of the questions I often ask parents is ‘If you could pick one word to describe the world you want your child to grow up in, what would it be?’” Shauna says. “Everybody always picks words like safe, resilient, understanding and compassionate. That’s what parents want for their kids. So how do we teach and model the skills we need to create that world?”
The aim of “Creating Compassionate Kids” is to help children develop their own self-esteem, resilience and empathy through age-appropriate conversations on a wide range of topics. It is aimed at parents or anyone playing a parenting role, such as caregivers, grandparents or teachers.
“We want to protect and shield our children, because the world can be a hard place and we want to let kids be kids,” Shauna says. “But in some ways this does our children a disservice. By avoiding conversations about tough topics, we miss out on opportunities to help children understand the world around them and learn important skills to navigate the challenges they and others might face.”
The book focuses mostly on children from birth up to about age 9, though many of its lessons are applicable for older children as well. “Creating Compassionate Kids” is centered around conversations in part because past research has shown that conversations between parents and their children have a range of benefits for a child, including helping to develop language, vocabulary and social-emotional skills.
The book is divided into four sections:
- You are loved: Modeling compassionate parenting – Communicating to a child that they are loved, that their feelings help express their needs and can be expressed in different ways; and that everyone is learning and making mistakes is part of learning.
- You are your own person: Building self-awareness – Focusing on the unique and special differences of each person, including race, temperament, sex and gender, abilities and disabilities and types of families.
- You are part of the world around you: Fostering resilience – Navigating life challenges such as love, relationships and sex; divorce; peer pressure; bullying; substance abuse; death; and guns and violence.
- You can be a helper: Promoting compassion – Identifying ways children can show compassion through kindness, empathy, thinking about others’ feelings, learning how to be a good friend and understanding how privilege impacts us.
Each section of the book includes example conversations inspired by real conversations between children and adults, conversation strategies, answers to common parenting questions, storybook recommendations and discussion questions and family activities to reinforce themes of that section.
“Children’s emotions are one of the things that challenge us the most,” Shauna says. “Most parents want their children to be happy. We don’t want our children to feel hurt or angry but having these feelings is normal. We need to teach our children that all these feelings are OK and that there are ways to show them effectively.”
Shauna, who lives in Corvallis and completed her human development and family studies doctorate at Oregon State, conducts research on children’s social-emotional growth and emotional intelligence. She is the principal investigator for the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative, an initiative to provide high-quality parenting education to families. The collaborative is a partnership between Oregon State and the Oregon Community Foundation, the Ford Family Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Collins Foundation.