Scientists, from Charles Darwin to contemporary neuroscience researchers, have found that human beings are wired for compassion. Compassion has two components: the first is empathy, which means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to feel what that person feels, and the second is action, which means helping someone in need and performing acts of kindness without expecting anything in return. Compassion is when one understands how another person feels and takes action to alleviate that person’s suffering. When a person thinks in a compassionate manner, they activate the neurochemistry of kindness, which begins with the release of the peptide hormone oxytocin (Meyer-Lindenberg, Domes, Kirsch, & Heinrichs, 2011). Oxytocin then activates dopamine and serotonin, which contribute to feelings of happiness and optimism (Dolen, Darvishzadeh, Huang, & Malenka, 2013). The neuro-keys of compassion are the vagus nerve (which causes the feeling of “warm fuzzies”), the inferior parietal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the hypothalamus, and the nucleus accumbens (Damasio & Carvalho, 2013).
Practicing Compassion as Caregivers
The “LUCA” steps from The Compassionate Achiever by Dr. Chris Kukk, provide an easy way to practice compassion as parents and caregivers in everyday life.
Listen to Learn – we all think we are good listeners but most of us are not.
- We listen to respond
- We should listen more than we talk
- Listening is essential for wisdom and understanding
- As a parent: Look at your child, give your full attention, paraphrase your understanding of what you hear your child telling you
- Ask questions:
- Open questions require more thought and explanation. Example: What can we learn from that mistake?
- Closed questions require yes or no answer. Example: Do you think that was a mistake?
- Pay attention to the silence – don’t try to fill in the silence – why might your child be silent?
- Gather information and connect
Understand to Know – really processing what you hear
- Connecting the pieces you learned from listening into a whole
- What is your child’s perspective of reality
- Holistic understanding (use what you know about your child – are they tired/ hungry/etc. – these factors play a huge part in how they react)
- Making connections between what you know, what you learned – (from the people/facts/ideas)
Connect to capabilities – finding the people or links to resources that have the potential to solve the problem
- Resources can be people, places, or things
- Your social network and technology are resources
Act to solve – do something to help alleviate the problem or suffering
- This is the difference between empathy & compassion – the ACTION
- To act you must: overcome fear, develop responsibility and resilience and sometimes practice the act of “nondoing”.
Family Focus and Connection
Below are example activities that families and caregivers can use to practice Choose Love skills and concepts at home.
Families can use the following discussion starters and activities with children:
- “To me, compassion is…”
- “I show compassion at school by…”
- “I show compassion at home by…”
- “I show compassion in my community by…”
Families can provide children a home environment where they belong, which is very different from fitting in. Belonging is the feeling that you are loved no matter what you do.
Families can have a lot of fun:
- Brainstorm with your child about what you will do for fun
- Put activities on the calendar
- Plan special one-on-one time with your child
Adults can practice compassion every day in the following ways:
Try some of the following simple, yet impactful ideas:
- Greet people you pass.
- Direct people who seem lost.
- When you say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” really mean it.
- Bring a coworker coffee.
- Call or write to an educator who changed your life.
- Listen with all your senses.
- Write a note to someone who is having a difficult day and acknowledge their efforts.
- Ask someone, “How are you really doing?”
- Remember that self-care and self-love are critical for you, too. Take a moment, even if it is just a
- brief pause, to take a deep breath and show yourself some kindness.
- Model compassion for all living things: pets, plants, and even insects that need to find their way back outside.
- Share personal stories about compassion with friends and coworkers.
- Practice random acts of kindness for coworkers and parents/caregivers.
For more information, check out the videos, handouts, and other resources at the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, Choose Love at Home site.