At only 5 years old, Josiah Duncan is teaching the country what it means to show love and compassion.
It all started when the Alabama boy and his mom, Ava Faulk, encountered a man outside a local Waffle House, news outlets report. Josiah didn’t understand why the man wasn’t clean. It turns out little Josiah had never heard of homelessness.
He had a lot of questions – but most of all, he was troubled that the man looked hungry.
That’s when Josiah decided to do something to help. He asked his mom if they could buy the unidentified man a meal. She said yes.
So into the Waffle House they went, with Josiah handing the man a menu after realizing no one was waiting on him.
After the food arrived, Josiah did one more thing.
“I wanted to say the blessing with him,” he told WSFA. And so Josiah sang, “God our Father, God our Father, we thank you, we thank you, for our many blessings, for our many blessings, Amen, Amen.”
By the time Josiah was finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the restaurant.
News outlets and commentators on social media are right to praise this little boy. After all, Josiah didn’t just empathize with the man he saw outside the Waffle House – he was moved to action.
But I also think Josiah’s mom deserves to be recognized. She took her son’s request seriously and empowered him to act. Despite the fact she’s raising her son in a culture that is becoming more individualized and calloused, Josiah was able to feel – and act out – compassion.
As parents, this story should encourage us to ask some questions: What are we doing to instill compassion in our children? How can we raise our kids to be kindhearted and others-centered?
Here are five suggestions for starters:
1. Model kindness
Kids learn by observing their parents, so it’s important they see their mom and dad live life well. Treating the waitress and cashier with respect, apologizing when you do wrong – children are observing how their parents interact with others.
As much as possible, include your children when serving at church or volunteering in the community. Moms and dads can “connect the dots” for their kids by explaining why they serve and help others.
Most of all, let’s raise our own children with kindness. I’ve previously written about the growing trend of parents yelling at their kids. So often, moms and dads are harried, busy and stressed out – but we can’t expect to raise compassionate kids if we’re not showing them patience and love.
2. Share truth
Kindness doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s part of living out biblical principles and following Jesus’ example. That’s why it’s important parents teach their children the truths found in the Bible. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence Josiah also felt the need to “say a blessing” over the meal.)
Kids need to learn that every person – even the mean or “unloveable” ones – are made in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s why teaching kids the Golden Rule and Bible verses such as Ephesians 4:32, which encourages believers to “be kind one to another,” is vital when instilling compassion in our children. Biblical truth should be the foundation – after all, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
3. Turn lessons into action
Josiah’s best intentions wouldn’t have gone far if his mom hadn’t helped him carry out the good deed. Our children need our support and encouragement if they are to make compassion a way of life.
One way to do this is to provide opportunities for our kids to help others. In the Daly home, each year we participate in Operation Christmas Child as a family by packing shoeboxes for children in need.
We also empower our sons when they want to serve others. For example, when Troy wanted to participate in a school-wide fundraiser to benefit the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, my wife, Jean, and I gave him our full support. Along with the other parents at the school, we affirmed, facilitated and encouraged our children’s desire to help.
4. Create an environment of discipline and responsibility
We’re all inherently sinful, which is why we as parents need to take proactive steps to instill a desire to help others in our children. Sometimes, that means disciplining our kids when they’re mean to others or act selfishly. Although it can be easy to overlook “little” things like an unwillingness to share a toy or refusing to invite an unpopular classmate to a birthday party, moms and dads can use these situations as opportunities to correct, guide and teach.
Another thing parents can do is to connect the kids’ chores to kindness. When children realize that taking on responsibility is part of family teamwork, they learn that sacrifice is part of service and that it’s loving to help one another.
5. Catch them doing good and praise them
Did your son give his sister the last cookie? Did your daughter stand up for someone who was being bullied? Did your children help their grandma fold laundry? Recognize their good deeds and celebrate them. We all need encouragement – Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds.”
As our culture becomes more hostile to Christianity and biblical morality, one way believers can “let our light shine” is to consistently live out our faith. The early church did this through orthopraxy – the doing of God’s word. They took in discarded babies, they cared for victims of the plague, they elevated the rights of women. In doing so, their cultural witness helped change the course of history.
We can do the same by instilling compassion in our children and by empowering our kids to do the good deeds God puts on their hearts. Just like little Josiah’s faith has touched the nation, our children can do their part to help change their neighborhoods, communities, and world.
Have you had a similar experience with your own children? If so, please share your story. I regularly hear from readers how much they appreciate the wisdom of those who take the time to leave a comment.