Teaching children with compassion: The key to learning

by Mary Ann on February 11, 2011

Van Gogh paintings pictures

Starry Night by Van Gough

Today I read a beautiful article:  Godly Parenting: New Dimensions of Compassion by Wallace Goddard. It was about bringing up and teaching children with compassion. I hope you will read it.

I frequently talk about “seeing children with new eyes”. Mr. Goddard calls that ‘seeing them with compassion’. When we feel compassion for our children we are gentle with their efforts to learn and the mistakes they make in the process.

I want to share two stories from the article that demonstrate the power of softness over hardness in our relationships with our children. They are also instructive as to the power of gentleness upon our ability to teach.

The first story occurred between Anjelica Huston and her famous father, film director, John Huston.

“Once, at the dinner table, the subject of van Gogh came up. I said somewhat flippantly that I didn’t like van Gogh. “You don’t like van Gogh?” he countered. “Then name six of his paintings and tell me why you don’t like them.” I couldn’t, of course. And he said, “Leave the room, and until you know what you’re talking about, don’t come back with your opinions to the dinner table.’

John responded to Anjelica’s ill-informed judgment with strong correction—but no compassion. When we correct without “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love, we do not enrich and educate people; we enrage them. The devil laughs and families suffer.” Godly Parenting: New Dimensions of Compassion By Wallace Goddard

Renoir paintings pictures

Les Parapluies (The Umbrellas 1883) by Renoir

The second story comes from a Jewish immigrant to America who wrote about replacing hardness with softness in parenting, This man was Haim Ginott and he taught about compassion in parenting. He wrote the still-acclaimed book Between Parent and Child.

“When Ashley, age fourteen, criticized modern painting, mother did not dispute her opinion. Nor did she condemn her taste.

Mother: You don’t like abstract art?

Ashley: I sure don’t. It’s ugly.

Mother: You prefer representational art?

Ashley: What’s that?

Mother: You like it when a house looks like a house, and a tree like a tree and a person like a person.

Ashley: Yes.

Mother: Then you like representational art.

Ashley: Imagine that. All my life I liked representational art and didn’t know it.” Godly Parenting: New Dimensions of Compassion By Wallace Goddard

albrecht durer paintings pictures

Great Piece of Turf( 1503) by Albrecht Dürer

Contrast this gentle approach with the one described earlier in which John Huston reacted to Anjelica’s statement. Huston’s response was to humiliate. Ashley’s mother’s desire was to educate. When we respond to children with compassion,  that is the difference it makes. It is compassion which helps us see with new eyes. And when we see with new eyes we can better help our children love learning.

Family mission statements can go along way in helping us see our famiies with more compassion. You will find family mission statement examples here.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

kim February 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I love dreaming about a more compassionate world and I love this paragraph….

For some reason we all tend to think that we will do much better than our own parents. That pride—for thus it is—prevents us from seeing even as well as they did. The proper preparation for compassion is humility: the whole-souled recognition that we do not fully comprehend someone else’s life. Only as we stop imposing our meanings on other people’s experiences, we can be open to their meanings. Only as we listen much better than we normally do, can we really hear the cries of another heart. Only as we open our souls to another person can we truly value that person’s life.


Mary Ann February 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Very beautiful! Thank you, Kim.


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