Helping Children Acquire Compassionate Hearts
by Natalia Lord
...and the King shall answer and say unto them, verily I say unto you, inasmuch as
ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.
Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth was brought up by her mother Princess Alice doing
"Not only did Princess Alice instill in her children a feeling for music and art,
she also laid firm Christian foundations. Each Saturday, with a large bouquet of flowers
in their arms, the children went to the hospital on Mauerstrasse and distributed them to
patients. They talked with the ill and became friends with many of them. In this way, the
children subconsciously acquired love and compassion.
Although Princess Alice always remained an Englishwoman at heart (she was a daughter of
Queen Victoria), she was much loved by the people of her new country, especially for her
tact and discretion. She founded a number of charitable organizations and, throughout her
short life, always gave priority to the interests of her Duchy and its people. She toiled
indefatigably to alleviate the difficulties her people were experiencing, distributing a
major part of her husbands and her own wealth to charity. She constantly visited
hospitals, orphanages and homes for the war-disabled and made a point of having her elder
daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth, accompany her on her many charitable excursions.
(Millar, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, p. 16)
I have tried to collect ideas on some practical ways in which to involve children in
small acts of kindness towards others. It seems that these small acts of caring about
others "backfire" in that the one giving tends to be the recipient. It always
struck me that whenever I made an effort to reach out towards someone who I felt needed a
friend at the time, I was the one who was enriched by the interaction. It was a little
embarrassing and quite humbling. As with so many other things we hope to teach our
children, we have to model that behavior or trait which we would like to pass on to them.
Here are some activities that we can do with our children to help model caring and
- Type the letters our small children dictate to relatives living far away or to elderly
people whom we know from church or in our neighborhood.
- Record messages for these people on audio or video tape.
- Encourage youngsters to interview grandparents and elderly friends on tape.
- Make birthday cards for patients at veterans' hospitals or nursing homes - don't forget
any relatives, neighbors or church friends. If you have a very prolific maker of cards,
the social workers at the veterans' hospitals and nursing homes would love to have these
cards to include them in the celebrations held for patients.
- Make Nativity ornaments each year to give to teachers, school bus drivers, custodians,
school secretaries, members of our church family who may not have families of their own,
etc. Arts and crafts stores have lots of inexpensive and easy craft ideas. Other ideas can
be found in library books on the subject.
- Make cookies for elderly neighbors and deliver them.
- Take part in an "adopt a grandparent" program at a nursing home. One girl
scout troop met for five years in a nursing home. They hosted teas, regularly visited
their adopted grandparent and ran Bingo games for the residents. At the end of that
period, the girls seemed comfortable with the residents and didn't get "grossed
out" by some of their behavior. They were accepting of that which can repel those
less accustomed to elderly people who are ill.
- Visit sick children in the hospital.
- Take part in the Angel Tree program at your local shopping mall. Select a child who has
a parent in jail. Ascertain his or her needs and clothing size. Go on a small shopping
spree for the child. Make cards, gift wrap your purchases and deliver to the designated
place in the mall. Try to talk your children into giving up one of their gifts so that the
child you select will have at least some presents. Older children perhaps can earn money
for buying these presents by doing chores for you or for neighbors.
- Take part in the food distribution program for those in need. In communities with food
banks you can volunteer to sort the food. In northern Virginia there is a program called
Lazarus at the Gate. Volunteers pick up food at the organization's headquarters and then
distribute it at two locations. People who need the food come to these locations. The only
question that the volunteers ask , "How many people are there in your family?"
There are always sandwiches, additional bread, canned goods, and whatever else was
donated. When children come to help they usually like to hand out the sweets to children
who come with their parents to receive food.
- Send your children with magazines of general interest, once you have finished reading
them, to elderly neighbors who may not be able to afford a subscription. It may help to
establish a friendship between your child and the neighbor.
- Older children can mow lawns and shovel snow for neighbors who need help. It's always
more fun to work for people who really appreciate your efforts. Parents, of course, aren't
nearly as appreciative!
- Encourage small children to invite the less popular, handicapped or foreign children to
come over to play. Speak to moms of handicapped children at the playground while
encouraging your child to play with the handicapped child.
- Encourage older youngsters to include the less popular or picked upon children in their
activities. This may mean that at PTA meetings and various other functions you will have
to speak with people that others may be avoiding.
- Read books that model compassionate behavior. Anthologies such as The Book of Virtues by
William Bennett contain some good selections.
- Encourage your children to act in a friendly and natural way around those who are
different from them - people of different races, nationalities, generations, people with
handicaps, etc. How? This is the hard part - by doing it yourself. Sometimes I try to
think of how I would want someone to act if I were the one in the wheelchair or with a
- Encourage children to donate some of their toys or outgrown clothing to homeless
shelters, or organizations collecting things for those who need them, or give them to a
family in your church that could use them.
There are of course, many more similar ideas that would serve the same purpose, but the
above are what have come to mind.
Natalia Lord Natalia Lord is a parishioner at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of
St John the Baptist in Washington DC. She and her husband have two girls, Elisabeth and
Alexandra, who have both written articles for The Orthodox Family.