Miss H’s first complete sentence was, “I wanna bring blankets to daddy.” Nate had slept in one Saturday morning, and my compassionate little girl decided that she needed to bring her beloved, snuggly blankets to him so he’d be comfortable. Getting to see into my newly-communicating child’s heart overwhelmed me almost to the point of tears. But did I let her interrupt Dad’s sleep to bring him blankets? No. Looking back, I view this as one of my first acts of squashing my daughter’s innate compassion.
I’m sure Nate appreciated sleeping in that day. We try to teach our children not to barge in when people are sleeping! But here I had this precious, not even two-year-old girl begging to serve someone, and instead of redirecting her compassion somewhere else, I distracted her with breakfast. This is why Charlotte Mason says compassionate children grow up to be adults with hardened hearts.
Charlotte Mason on the Compassion of Children
We are finishing up reading Parents and Children in our Charlotte Mason Early Learning Facebook group, and this topic came up in chapter 24. I don’t remember reading much about it before, but I feel like it’s especially urgent for the early years, before our children’s hearts become hardened. Charlotte Mason had some very worthy ideas on this topic:
Don’t train them to have hardened hearts
“Do not let us bring up our children in glass houses, for fear of the ravages of pity upon their tender hearts. Let them know of any distress which would naturally come before them, and let them ease their own pain by alleviating in some way the sufferings they sorrow for. Children were not given to us with infinite possibilities of love and pity that we might choke the springs of pity and train them into hardness of heart. It is our part, on the contrary, to prepare these little ministers of grace for the larger and fuller revelation of the kingdom of heaven that is coming upon us.” Parents and Children pages 266 and 267
This is the first time that I had realized I do this- that I “choke the springs of pity and train them into hardness of heart.” How many times have I rolled the windows up at an intersection and told my children that we will donate to the local homeless shelter, not the person standing, shivering on the roadside? How many times have I told Miss H that she couldn’t donate a certain item to someone in need because it was too special? These are little things that I’ve done to help harden her heart.
We can shield them from immense suffering, but not every pain
“Children should be Brought up to Live for All Men––Studying reverently these signs of the times, what indications do we find for our guidance in the bringing up of children? I knew a little girl of five, who came in from her walk under an obvious cloud of distress. ‘What is the matter, H––?’ she was asked. A quick little ‘Nothing,’ with the reticence of her family, was all that could be got out of her for some minutes; but a caress broke her down, and, in a passion of pity, she sobbed out, ‘A poor man, no home, no food, no bed to lie upon!’ Young as she was, the revelation of the common life in humanity had come upon her; she was one with the beggar and suffered with him. Children must, of course, be shielded from intense suffering, but woe to mother or nurse who would shield, by systematically hardening, the child’s heart. This little girl had the relief of helping, and then the pain of sympathy ceased to be too much for her.” Parents and Children, page 265
Sheltering our children from every sad event hides the need for compassion. I am not suggesting that you turn on the evening news and let your child take in every horror of the world! Charlotte Mason said that we slowly give children what they can handle. This means not diverting their attention from little heart aches that they witness. Helping brings relief to their pain.
We have to give our children opportunities to serve
Let children use their resources
Again, children are open to vanity as to all other evil dispositions possible to human nature. They must be educated to give and to help without any notion that to do so is goodness on their part. It is very easy to keep them in the attitude of mind natural to a child, that to serve is promotion to the person who serves for indeed he has no absolute claim to be in a position to pour benefits upon another.The child’s range of sympathy must be widened, his love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home should appeal to him equally; and always he should give some manner of help at real cost to himself. When he is old enough, the object-lessons of the newspapers should be brought before him. Parents and Children page 266
When Miss H wants to help people, I need to see that she does. Instead of saying “no” to her ideas, I need to help her come up with an effective way to serve people. I think that this seems stressful because it adds one more thing to my plate. But I like how CM mentioned that it should be “at a real cost to himself.” Miss H earns money every week for doing extra chores around the house, so she has some money that she could use to help other people. She also has time to help! The burden isn’t entirely my own!
Once Miss H tried to give away her American Girl doll- the Bitty Baby that we bought her when she was herself a bitty baby. The one we thought would be handed down to her potential daughter. I said no. Instead, I could have helped her gather her money to buy a brand new doll for someone in need, or made a goal for her to earn the same amount of money in order to donate to a local charity.
Be careful with deciding who needs our pity
Children should not hear of ‘Impostors’––Whatever our own opinion of the world and of human nature, let us be careful how we breathe the word ‘impostor’ into the ear of a child, until he is old enough to understand that if the man is an impostor, that does but make him the object of a deeper pity and a wiser help––a help whose object is not to relieve but to reform.” Parents and Children, page 266
Charlotte Mason uses the term “impostors” to describe people who are just pretending to need help. I think this is an important idea because I tend to be too quick to judge who actually needs my help and pity.
Will you join me on this attempt to help keep compassionate kids compassionate?