Some parents hope that their child will grow up to be smart, successful, or simply well-liked by their peers. If you're anything like me, though, you will know you've done your job as a parent well if you've raised a child who is kind to others. In my opinion, having good character and an empathetic nature will take you further in life than ambition or smarts alone can. But since crystal balls aren't legit, there's really no way of knowing exactly who your child will turn out to be. However, there are some early signs your kid will be compassionate if you're looking to put your mind at ease.
It can be difficult, especially with infants who can't communicate yet and toddlers who find everything to be unreasonable, to figure out what is a passing phase and what is indicative of your child's true nature. Though I'd like to believe that my son is a sensitive and caring soul, I occasionally have second thoughts when he refuses to eat perfectly normal food and shrieks as if I'm trying to poison him.
So what lies in between the lines of your child's temperament? Are they going to be the next Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa? Check out these early signs your kid will be compassionate if you think sainthood may be in their future.
1. They Connect With Others
Your child doesn't have to be a social butterfly to be connected to their community. If they express concern over the feelings of those around them, that's an early sign of compassion. Dr. Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist, told The Huffington Post that, "compassionate people are very outward-focused because they have that ability to feel others’ feelings, so they’re very socially connected.” It also helps to give your child the opportunities to let that seed of compassion grow by taking them to volunteer or do other things for their community.
2. They're Affectionate
Darcia Narvaez, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, told The Notre Dame News that children who frequently engage in positive touch — such as hugging, cuddling, or just being gentle — with their family and support system tend to be more compassionate later in life. Something as simple as having a conversation with your child about how to be gentle can really nurture their sense of compassion.
3. They Play Pretend
The experts at What To Expect When You're Expecting noted that an early sign of compassion is if your child loves to play pretend because, "make-believe is all about taking on a role and [they] imagine how that person acts, thinks, feels, and responds to others." You can also get involved by playing pretend with them so you can work through challenging experiences by using make-believe scenarios to talk it out.
4. Their Vocabulary Is Expressive
One sign that your child has a kind soul, according to Parents is if they are, "pointing out different expressions and giving them a name — happy, sad, mad, angry." You can even watch how this develops over time and encourage them to expand their emotional vocabulary. "As your child gets older, the emotions can get more nuanced—surprise, shyness, confusion, irritation," Parents further noted. Being able to link an expression, gesture, of body language to an emotion and its meaning is a significant foundation for a child to understand compassion and kindness.
5. They Might Act Out
Children who are seen as "disruptive" in the classroom are often being mislabeled. Pamela K. Lauer, a paraprofessional tells Romper that, "these children are actually very compassionate and it's because of their deep sensitivity that they 'act out.'" So why does she think this results in disorderly behavior? "It's due to the fact they don't have the skills to articulate these very strong feelings yet; so it all just erupts out of them like a volcano," Lauer says. Taking the time to look beyond labels, whether given by schools, doctors, or otherwise, you might be surprised to find a wealth of compassion in your child.
6. They're Mindful
It seems that being aware of social situations and how they should be managed are key signs that your child will be compassionate. Dr. Karen Schiltz, a clinical psychologist who maintains a private practice in pediatric neuropsychology, told Psychology Today, "children who are caring enter a group asking permission to join, are mindful of what the group is talking about and cognizant of physical boundaries." Even at a young age, caring children can sense shared and personal space and how to appropriately respond in that setting.
7. They're Natural Teachers
Does your little one naturally take on the role of helper, leader, or mentor among their group of friends? Jen Groover, a motivational speaker and author, told The Huffington Post that a key trait of a compassionate person is they seek out opportunities to not only help others, but teach and show them how to be compassionate, too. So if you notice that your child enjoys supporting others with kindness, then they're well on their way to being a compassionate adult.