Naughty and Nice: The Origins of Compassion

With the holiday season upon us, I'm thinking about compassion today. As parents, most of want to instill an understanding of compassion and kindness towards others in our children. It raises the question, however, of whether compassion is innate or learned. What research tells us is that we humans do have a tendency toward compassion but it has to be fostered and practiced.

I explore this more in my post at Notes on Parenting. But first, consider this video in which babies seems to understand the difference between naughty and nice characters.

Amazing isn't it? Based on studies like these, researchers believe that children do have some innate sense of good and bad. To keep this sense of kindness and foster compassionate acts, we have to reinforce and promote it in our homes and schools.

Again, research can inform this process too. Harvard's Making Caring Common project tells us what we probably already know, but many of us have trouble practicing: parents' example is far more powerful than our words.

  • Kids learn kindness best by watching our example. 
  • Our modeling needs to come in the form of both: (1) kind acts towards others and (2) modeling how to control difficult emotions like anger that often provoke unkind acts
  • Kids need to practice being kind to become good at it--just like learning a new language or a new sport
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