Teaching a toddler about compassion

I took Molly to a soft play centre last week. It was pretty busy with kids running and screaming. The usual soft play scenarios were being played out…mums drinking tea and gossiping, babies crying, kids hopped up on one too many slush puppies. They whizzed by in a blur, but one little girl caught my eye.

From a distance it looked like she was going through cancer treatment. But when she came close to me I could see that she was covered in burns. It looked like she had either been in a fire, or had had acid poured over her. 

Her one hand was missing, she had no hair, and her entire face and body was scarred. I guessed that she must have been about 3. She was beautiful though, with a gorgeous smile, and was running around happily playing like all the other children.

But people were staring. Children didn’t want to play with her. I was observing this as I sat on the edge of the toddler area, watching Molly potter about. Then she came and stood next to her in the ball pit. 

I could see Molly staring at her face, and I could also see her getting more and more upset. I was just about to intervene when Molly came running over to me with tears in her eyes, pointing at the little girl.

Now Molly is 2 and a half, and has never seen anyone who looks a bit different before. I would imagine that to a young child then the sight of this little girl would be quite scary. I had a split second to decide what to say to Molly to explain. 

I sat her down and said that the little girl had an ‘owie’ (what we say when she’s hurt herself), and that she just wanted to play. Molly nodded, then ran up to her and gave her a massive cuddle (or cwtch as we say in Wales!). I was so proud I had tears in my eyes. Then off they went chasing each other without a care in the world.

It’s been said that ‘kids can be cruel’. But being cruel isn’t something you’re born with, it’s learned. We as parents have a duty to instill love, respect and kindness into our children. 

You can sit down and read books, or watch movies and tv shows with a moral storyline, but these won’t shape the way they are. Kids learn these important traits by watching YOU. How you behave, how you speak, and how you react to situations are all filtering into their little brains each and every day. 

Yes of course it’s only human nature to do a double take when you see a little girl like that, but the amount of adults I saw just staring at her open mouthed with their kids watching was shocking.

As I watched Molly and her new friend running about happily playing, my thoughts drifted to her parents. What must they be going through? I still panic now when Molly has a cold or a high temperature, but at least they are short lived. 

Not only have they had to deal with their daughter’s physical pain which must have been utterly horrendous, they are obviously now dealing with the emotional/mental trauma that comes with it.

I worry about my daughter growing up in a world that is so hung up on looks. We still don’t live in a society where being different is accepted. Hate, prejudice and bullying will continue, we’ll never be able to stamp it out completely. 

That little girl will probably be stared at every day for her entire life, but we can be the ones not to stare. We can teach our kids that it’s ok to be different.

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42 thoughts on “Teaching a toddler about compassion

  1. What an amazing post. Whenever I watch my daughter playing, I am reminded that kids are so pure, and that prejudice is something that just happens comes with time and whoever influences them as they get older (the ‘wrong crowd’ obvs). They will play with other children of different skin colours, genders, backgrounds and in fact that don’t even speak the same language. It is for us parents to encourage that to continue for as long as we can, so well done to you for helping your child not to be scared of this gorgeous little girl. #twinklytuesdays PS We say cwtch in our house too πŸ™‚

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  2. I loved reading this because I really FELT what you described.

    I try – and I hope it works – to do the same. And also to treat anyone who might look at bit ‘different’ as a person. You know like if someone’s using a mobility scooter and my toddler asks what it is? I always try not to just talk about the person in earshot and if they look friendly I ask if we say hello and maybe look at the buttons or wheels.

    I remember when I was a very little child being almost scared of wheelchairs, not because my parents taught me to be but I must have overheard comments like “poor child” which highlighted the ‘difference’ between us. These were the days when people still said ‘handicapped’ and Scope was still the Spastic Society. I like to think things have changed so much since then.

    You’re spot on when you say that children are born innocent and mine is still certainly convinced that everyone in the world is lovely and his friend. I hope I can keep him this way and if and when he meets another child who looks a bit different to him in future that he’ll be as kind as Little M x

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s only natural for toddlers to be curious but it’s up to us to teach them respect and kindness. Just wish they could stay young and innocent forever! X

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  3. Kids really are blank canvasses and unfortunately it is our opinions and the media these days that will write on them. With the advent of everything being so picture perfect on social media there was never a worse time for judging a book by it’s cover in my opinion. Great post and thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub xx

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  4. Your daughter sounds awesome. I’m sure she’ll be the one playing with anyone and everyone for her whole life.

    I bet she’ll be a nurse one day too. Empathy isn’t taught, it’s just something you’re born with.

    Found you on #coolmomsclub

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  5. It may not always be the case, but little ones tend to look out of curiosity. It’s their way of making sense of the world and understanding things. I can imagine that your little one will be the compassionate one, ensuring no one gets left out. Thank you so much for linking this post to the #DreamTeam xx

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    1. Definitely, little ones will always stare, that’s how they learn. But it’s up to us as parents to teach them that staring isn’t very nice. The amount of adults I saw that day just staring at that little girl open mouthed was shocking!

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  6. What a lovely post! And what a lovely daughter you have too. I hope that above everything else I can raise children who are compassionate – I hope that I could handle a similar situation in such a thoughtful and simple way. Thanks so much for joining us again at #SharingtheBlogLove

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  7. Thats adorable. What a gorgeous little girl you have. You handled it perfectly. I always worry about those split second decisions you have to make, that will affect the way they think about things. The big things in life. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove x

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  8. Oh you should be so proud of your daughter! It will have made that other little girls’ day (and probably her parents’ too). Children look to their parents for guidance, and if we can show them that different doesn’t mean scary or horrible, they often accept that and will embrace ‘different’. Well done on thinking on your toes and I’m sure your little girl will bring sunshine to many more people’s lives #SharingTheBlogLove

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  9. OMG I would have been in floods! How wonderful that your daughter reacted in such a lovely way. I often wonder how I’ll react when my little one is old enough to ask the tough questions and it makes me realise you just have to lead by example and teach them the best you can. x #SharingtheBlogLove

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  10. That’s a lovely story, and a lovely illustration of how to teach children to be accepting and kind. You’re right, we should definitely lead by example, and use simple language which they can relate to in order to explain. #SharingTheBlogLove

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  11. I got so emotional reading this, I had to pause the TV and read it out to my husband because it was so beautiful that little M gave her a cuddle! I think about bullying all the time and my little man is only 6 months, it’s a scary world we live in but you’re right, they learn from us. #SharingtheBlogLove

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  12. That’s so beautiful!
    Thank you for being a great mother and teaching your daughter to be kind and accepting! I hope I can achieve the same with my sons. It’s a hard to accept that our actions are not our own when we have kids- every single thing we do will affect and shape our children. Even things as simple as biting my nails, Master 3 has obviously seen and now copies. Even that breaks my heart, for I don’t want him to have my bad habits.
    Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

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