I spotted some kids’ T-shirts the other day – the messages were bold and downright rude. One said, "It’s all about me"; the other proclaimed, "Don’t be fooled, I just ACT like I care."

I nearly went on a moral rampage – until I realized how much I actually lived what those T-shirts declared. At times I belittle my husband for inconsequential issues; other times I resist serving my family because I’m tired and frustrated.

I know my children will model what I do – so how can I model compassion and concern for others in a way that will draw them to follow those same values?

Lead by example

Creating a compassionate environment begins at home. Each day provides opportunities for family members to speak and act with kindness, and acting on those opportunities is key. Simple things communicate care, like kissing a boo-boo suffered by my 10-year-old, Hannah, or encouraging my 14-year-old, Justin, through a math problem.

My husband, Derek, and I also model compassion by sharing about our volunteer experiences. Derek leads a Bible study with incarcerated teens, and he often talks about the blessing that comes in serving them. I have actively visited hospitals and get to share about the lives of those who are hurting. We want our son and daughter to care for people who are helpless or less fortunate, and we hope our enthusiasm will spur them on.

Family service

Serving as a family is my favourite way to teach empathy. Each Christmas, we visit local nursing homes. We sing carols and spend time with the residents. It’s priceless to watch the elderly residents smile as they retell childhood memories, hold hands with our children and sing "Silent Night."

One Thanksgiving, Derek took Justin to a homeless shelter. They ate with destitute men, women and children, who shared with them about their lives and troubles. Getting a glimpse into these people’s hearts helped Justin to see the homeless as human beings with feelings and life stories.

You can connect your children to volunteer opportunities in many ways. Ministries often need help. You can also check for community events online or in the newspaper. Invite your child to select a free postcard and type a short message for a soldier overseas. Bake and deliver cookies to local police and fire departments with a note that says, "We appreciate what you do for our community."

Use the power of media

Derek and I use media to our full advantage. We rent and buy CDs and DVDs that express compassion. We tape shows about dwarfism and other special needs. We watch video clips online about talented autistic people and babies with birth defects. We don’t want our kids judging others who look or act differently.

Media influence is not going away, so why not use it to help teach compassion? Look for unique films. Listen for powerfully written songs. Read heartwarming books together.

Let kids care

Our children care – sometimes we just need to open the door for them to act on their feelings. When Justin was nine, he and his dad watched a TV program about feeding starving children. Justin asked, "Dad, can we help feed the children?"

Derek called the 800 number and donated for him. That night, Derek proudly shared how Justin’s donation would buy potatoes for hungry kids.

When Hannah was in grade three, her teacher told the class about a fellow student in need of medical treatment. She asked students to consider bringing in their extra pocket change.

Hannah hopped in the car after school, told me about the girl and said, "I want to give all my money." I wanted to plead, "That’s your birthday money and your allowance. Keep at least half." But I didn’t.

"Hannah, I want you to pray about how much to give. Maybe God will tell you to give $20. Maybe He’ll say half. Or maybe He’ll say give it all. Tell me in the morning what you decide. "

The next morning, Hannah said, "Mom, I prayed about it. Look in my money box." Every last dollar was gone. She gladly gave $110 to help her classmate.

I cried.

With that attitude, I hope she’ll become a T-shirt designer. Then maybe we’ll start seeing logos like "I care BIG about you."

Tiffany Stuart is married with two children and lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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