Allowing Toddlers to Choose Compassion

June 22nd, 2010 by Dionna | 16 Comments
Posted in Children, Eclectic Learning, Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlers


Kieran half ran, half stumbled down the small hill that separated us from his new favorite place on Earth: the baseball diamond. A ball in one hand, a bat in the other, a Royals hat on his head to shield his eyes from the scorching sun that was slowing baking the field at 100 degrees.

Just before we hit the dirt of the dugout area, we were startled by movement at our feet. We stopped short and stared, confused, at the small robin who flapped her wings but did not flee our approach.

She fluttered frantically again and I realized why she was still on the packed dirt: a piece of grass netting was wrapped around her neck. I whispered some soothing words to the bird and tried to move the netting, but all that did was frighten the bird and Kieran. Kieran, scared of the bird’s panicked flapping and my obvious unease, started to cry.

“What that bird do, mama?”

“She got caught in the net. She doesn’t know how to get out, and she is scared, hot, and tired.”

“Get that net off that bird, mama!”

“Let me see if we have something in the car.” I ran back to the parking lot and scanned the car: nothing. I hated the thought of driving home for something, but I did not want to teach Kieran that we only help when it is convenient (and I couldn’t in good conscience leave the bird anyway). I went back down and asked Kieran if he wanted to go home and get scissors. I explained that we would come back and cut the netting away to try to help the bird.

Without hesitation, Kieran headed for the car.

Instead of driving all the way home, I decided to stop and ask for help at a garage sale a few blocks away. My strange request was met with a smile, and I promised to return the homeowner’s scissors shortly.

When we walked down the hill this time, I picked Kieran up and hurried. The heat and the bird’s struggles were taking their toll, enough that she didn’t put up much of a fight when I bent over and gently scooped her up.

Kieran’s cheeks were wet with tears again, and he asked over and over if the robin was ok.

Once I had the net off, I walked her over to a shaded area and poured some water on the ground and tree next to her. Then Kieran and I talked about taking time to help others. He has continued to talk about the experience since then, often wanting me to “tell me the story!” of saving the robin.

While I’m not certain that the robin met with a lucky end, the experience allowed us to act compassionately and made a lasting impression on Kieran.

What opportunities have you and your child had to show compassion?

Photo credit: BrandyCorc

16 Responses to:
"Allowing Toddlers to Choose Compassion"

  1. Rebecca

    Yay for saving the Robin!

    We try to do tangible things that Tater can empathize with rather than just “giving” to something that she cannot understand or grasp the concept of. We started doing this when she was little. And its one of my favorite stories.

    One day at work, I got an email that a family had lost their home, and all their belongings, to a fire, they had a little girl just smaller than Tater, sooo, I let the social worker know that we had just cleaned out the size clothing they needed from the dresser, and that I would bring in a big box. So, that night, I packed all the little clothes in a laundry basket (figuring that would be more useful to them than a box). Amelia walks in and says “MOMMY!!!!! Those are my clothes, what are you doing?!” The idea of me packing those up was a problem. Sooo, we talked about what I was doing. Explained to her that there was a little girl who did not have any clothes because her house was on fire, and they all burned up, so since she was too big for those clothes, I was going to take them to the little girl. “Oh” she says, thinking about this whole idea. We had just stopped wearing diapers, and had some left over, so she went and got those and put them in, saying “she will need these” then she went and got the package of pull ups, and told me “I wear big girl pants to bed now, she she can have these too.” Then she found some other clothes I had missed and packed them up too.

    Thinking I would see how much she actually understood about what she was doing, I asked her if she would like to find a toy to give to the little girl too. “YES Mommy, she needs toys” So, off she trotted to her toy box. She pulled out a beloved baby doll (which of course was naked) looked it over, went back, got some clothes, brought them to me to dress the baby and disappeared again. She came back with a little toy diaper bag, with a baby doll toy, a sippy cup, a bib, and a little baby diaper. She gave her newly dressed baby a big hug and kiss, and told her she was going to go and live with another little girl.

    The next morning, the basket (and more importantly the story) went with me to work. All was delivered to the social worker, who with her coworkers just about cried when I told them about Amelia packing up the baby and its diaper bag (of course there were also some comments about how she did a better job at 3 packing a diaper bag than some of our parents…but that is how we roll).

    Ironically, last night, we were talking about the same thing. Amelia got a lovely package of new books from my cousin, and so, we were talking about cleaning out her bookshelf so that she would have room for them. George tosses out that we could probably take the books that we didn’t read anymore to the Children’s Advocacy Center (Lifehouse). She heard us saying we would take them to “the house” which she didn’t understand and was a bit upset by, because, those are her toys. So, as we sat down for dinner I explained to her what Lifehouse does. As we talked about her things being there for other kids to play with when they have to talk about getting “mixed up touches” so that daddy could find people who hurt kids, she got it, and was suddenly excited to pack up toys and books to take for those kids to play with so they would not be bored.

    We often expect our kids to get rid of old toys willingly without coming up with a plan they can empathize with and without giving them time to mourn the loss of those belongings (even if they have not played with them in YEARS) which is a mistake. Honestly, I think that kids are willing to part with them, if there is an explanation of where they are going and how it will effect other kids. Soo, we are careful in helping to find things that are age appropriate for her to donate to. It helps that they are causes that are near and dear to our hearts, but certainly relateable for her. We were cleaning out stuffed animals just the other day, and Amelia had to give each one a hug and a kiss and say that she loved it and then (and only then) was it okay to put it in the bag.

  2. Katie

    I love this story of saving the Robin!
    Rebecca’s is wonderful as well!

    We dontated old stuffed animals to the firemen and policemen to give to kids when they get hurt or rescued from a fire, ect. Marin was a great help, at 18 months or so, picking out what “stuffies” to give to the kids who needed something to keep them from being scared. She thought it was so much fun. When we went to drop them off she said “these fo babies so they not scaed.” So proud of herself for giving her “stuffies” a loving home.

    We also choose clothing every 6 months or year or so to donate to various charities. That is not as fun for her. She prefers to choose toys to give to kids who are less fortunate and that I am more that ok with! ;)

    Dionna: I suggest putting a pocket knife and small rescue kit in your glove box for future “Robin rescues” :)

  3. Melodie   bfmom

    That’s so lovely. While I have rescued a number of animals over the years I have yet to save any since my children were born. I look forward to teaching them about compassion to animals (other than not eating them) in the future.

  4. Kimberley

    When my eldest children were 5 and 8 years old we lived in England for 3 years. When we walked to school we saw earthworms that had washed up on the side walk. I taught them to loosen some soil and then gently place the worms on the loose dirt. Years later, while in high school, my daughter would still rescue stranded worms on her way to the bus stop – even when teased by her peers. One boy used to try to step on them before my DD could get to them :(
    My step-daughters were taught to fear and kill bugs, but when they were at my house I talked to them about my belief that God made and loves bugs. I said that if they wanted them out of the house they could gently capture them and put them outside. Thier mother told them in no uncertain terms that I was wrong, and that God does not love bugs, but they never killed one at my house again.
    Even if they see others behaving in a way that is not compassionate I hope they remember that there is a different way.

    • When it rains heavily there is a rather large puddle that forms at the end of our driveway and frequently there are worms that get trapped in the puddle. They will drown if they don’t get out of the puddle and so my son and I take little sticks or twigs and scoop them out and place them in the lawn where they can hopefully live another day. Sometimes if I forget he reminds me when he goes outside that we need to SAVE the worms. It really is amazing that he remembers and that empathy can be taught and shared with little ones.

  5. I saw a raccoon in the road that had been hit by a car on a rainy day. It was in the middle of the road and I felt bad for it. I went home to get a rake and shovel so I could at least get it out of the middle of the road so if it was still alive then it would at least have a chance not to get hit again. My neighbor offered to help but when we got there the raccoon was gone! I don’t know what happened to it but the neighbor said that I should be careful about rabid raccoons. My little boy was in the car with me at the time.

  6. Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes   sheryljesin

    What a lovely story. We often give clothing and household items that we don’t need to various charities, but I never thought of involving Dylan in the process to help teach him about compassion. I must start doing that!

  7. Melodie   bfmom

    Something just happened since I left my comment this morning and I wanted to come back and share it with you. On our way home from dropping off my oldest daughter at school my little one found a butterfly on the grass. She thought it was dead but when we got closer it started to flutter only it couldn’t fly. Of course we couldn’t do much about that and I told her as much. But she really wanted to do something to help it. I acknowledged she must feel sad and she confirmed she did. Nearby were some roses so I picked one haying that butterflies really love flowers and although we couldn’t mend whatever wasn’t making it able to fly we could give it a flower to make it feel better. It crawled up the flower as soon as I brought it close and appeared much more content. Everyone left feeling a little bit better about otherwise feeling helpless. Oh yes, we also left it in the shade away from the sharp eyes of preying birds!

  8. daisy   TooTooDaisy

    @Kimberly, I think allowing children to see different ways of reacting to things, rather than telling them what to do, gives them the honor of actively choosing compassion. And I genuinely believe most young people, in weighing a cold versus compassionate approach, will be naturally inclined to choose the latter.

  9. Ruth Ann

    I like to think that the things we did with you as a child led you to wanting to help that poor robin in the netting!!! Do you remember “Little Bit”?? The little rabbit that Daddy rescued from the pool one spring and we brought in the house to raise? You helped me feed him the baby bunny formula that the vet gave us the recipe for. We would go and gather clover and dandelions for him, so that he learned to eat what he would have in the wild. It broke my heart when we took Little Bit out and turned him loose in the nature preserve behind your school, so that he could have his own little family.

  10. Marilyn   ALotofLoves

    I hope that little Robin made it through that ordeal.

    I can’t think of a similar story but my 3-year-old has started to show compassion for other little kids that are hurt or upset – not all of the time of course but he is getting better at it. In fact his preschool teachers even commended him for it in his year-end review and that made me feel pretty good.

  11. I think it’s lovely that he wants to hear the story of the robin time and time again. I would bet that affects future decisions at moment of choosing how to respond to a situation that demands a choice between compassion or cruelty (whether through action or inaction). Both of your responses to the situation really impress me, Di.

  12. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    We haven’t had any opportunities for animal rescues, but whenever my now-11-month-old is teething, he likes to chew on a wet washcloth, but every once in a while he stops and attempts to shove it in to my mouth. ’cause Mama’s mouth might be hurting too! And he LOVES to feed me little bits of finger food. I figure it’s a good start to understanding sharing and compassion, and we can build on that to someday help other people and animals!

    I donate my own clothes, but I’m keeping all the baby clothes ’cause I’m hoping to have a bunch more kids and it’d be nice to not have to buy very many new clothes for them! Maybe I’ll have all boys…

  13. Mike

    That’s a beautiful story. Bravo to you for teaching your child to be kind and compassionate to other living things.

  14. Michelle @ The Parent Vortex   TheParentVortex

    What a beautiful story! Children learn so much more from acting with compassion than having lessons “taught” to them in a formal classroom situation.

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