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The surprising nature of compassion from kids

I think sometimes it's easy for us as parents — or just people in general — to underestimate the amount of compassion a child can express. Children, as a rule, are selfish creatures. I don't mean that as a judgment, I mean it as a general observation.

They think of their needs, their wants, their happiness. Over time they learn more and more to think of others ("How would you feel if your friend said that to you? Sad? So how do you think she feels now that you said it to her? Exactly!") but it's a work in progress.

All I have to do is observe my oldest daughter with her younger sister and I can easily assume that there's not much in the way of compassion or empathy there. The amount of bickering over "don't touch my stuff" is unbelievable. And also headache-inducing.

When the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, my daughter's school brought in a counselor who helps kids with troubling matters and during an assembly she explained the earthquake and aftermath to the kids in a way that was understandable for elementary school ages. She also reassured and asked questions.

At home my daughter spent days asking us questions about it. Never interested in the news, she suddenly fell quiet and listened closely whenever Haiti came up.

Last Friday the school held a dress-down day to raise funds to donate to the ongoing relief in Haiti. Although we have a strict dress code (not quite a uniform but kids must wear plain white shirts and blue pants, tunics, or skirts, with white t-shirts and blue shorts for gym), that Friday kids were allowed to arrive in their own clothing choices as long as they brought in two dollars to donate.

My daughter was ecstatic to wear her own clothes and spent some time debating what she would wear. However there was no debating when it came time to pay up. She asked me if she could please take more than the required two dollars. "I want to take more money," she said, "because it will help people more."

Obviously I didn't say no.

In the end, she pulled out her wallet and chose to take in a five dollar bill that she had gotten from her aunt recently. She was so proud to take more money in; I was so proud of her for doing in unprompted. I'm very involved in the school and from what I heard she wasn't the only one to bring in extra just because they wanted to help the families who are suffering in Haiti. In the end, the school raised $1,338 and that's pretty good since they only had two days' notice!

I was volunteering at the school's breakfast club that day and I loved seeing all the kids dressed in their own clothing. Some had even dressed up all fancy; one little boy in grade two even wore a little black suit and a dress shirt. Most of all though, I loved hearing them all chattering to each other about how they were helping people in Haiti and what their money would buy for them.

Yes, kids can be selfish more often than we'd like and yes, we have to routinely remind them not to be, but they can really surprise you sometimes with the incredible depth of their compassion.

This is an original post from the Canada Moms Blog. When Sherry Osborne's not trying to teach her daughters to care for others, she can be found blogging at Chaos Theory.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.