Raising Compassionate Kids :: A Taste of the Real World

raising-compassionate-kids “You guys live in paradise!” my dad exclaimed this evening after listening to me rehash my day. “You walked to the park in the morning, the beach in the evening, you’re going to the zoo tomorrow, and all in this perfect weather…!”

We laughed, knowing he’d barely hit the highlights. Raising kids in Coronado is a dream come true.

But Coronado is just a steppingstone for us in the long road of life. Much as I want to live life here to the fullest, I also want Lena and Gil to know that there is a world beyond Coronado. It is an incredible world, with diverse and fascinating people, and it is valuable and beautiful.

I want them to know that every day of their lives, even before they can understand what they are learning, so that their natural instinct is to respond with compassion, responsibility, and love.

So recently I began to look for ways to do that. I had two constraining criteria, though. Lena and Gil are almost four and barely two years old, so I needed something that would be age-appropriate for them. I also wanted to be able to walk.

Believe it or not, finding something wasn’t hard. As many of you know, I’m a nurse (currently on a hiatus to raise babies and write), and I have spent a lot of time in nursing homes. Most assisted living facilities have regular activities and volunteer opportunities.

In January of this year, I did a Google search for “assisted living Coronado,” and only one result popped up. I pressed “call” under the listing for the Coronado Retirement Village to ask if they had an activities director. Within seconds I heard the bright and cheery voice of Ally, activities director extraordinaire.

Five minutes later, I had a date and a time to join the residents for a Thursday morning crock-pot cooking class.

The first morning we showed up, I was nervous. Would Lena and Gil behave? What would we do? Would residents be mostly bed-bound, or walking around the facility, or lucid? I really had no idea.

Also, even though we had walked to almost every corner of Coronado, we had not walked to the corner that included the assisted living facility, and we were on unfamiliar ground.

But I shouldn’t have worried.

The facility is beautiful, sparkling clean with big windows overlooking Tidelands Park and the bay. That first day, Ally greeted us and took us upstairs to the two community rooms filled with books, a vintage bingo set, a couple of TVs, and plenty of comfortable seating. We passed quiet private rooms where staff members were fanning clean sheets over beds.

Clearly, we had stepped into a bustling little community, less like a hospital than a well-run apartment building.

IMG_7280 We have continued to visit the CRV every Thursday morning this spring, and this past week we made chocolate chip pancakes with the residents. I watched as two-year-old Gil carefully carried a paper plate with a pancake to each resident, and then held it still while three-year-old Lena poured a dollop of syrup onto each pancake. They waited patiently to serve everyone, and then they sat down to eat a pancake of their own. Later, they delivered cups of water, and then returned to gather up the trash.

Next Ally got out various games in the community room. As I watched Lena and Gil blow bubbles and various residents pop them, I realized that I had brought my children to just the right place. The residents were delighted with my children – most of them forget and are newly delighted each week. They also enjoy playing the same games and eating the same snacks that my preschool-age children do.

For about an hour each week, bringing preschoolers and assisted living residents together is a wonderful playtime for both of them.

becca-garber-assisted-living-coronado.jpg As the weeks have gone by, Lena, Gil, and I have learned names, personalities, and life stories. The kids know what a walker is for, and a wheelchair, and that some people just doze off in the middle of a game. During our visits, the kids know that they are in second place and that their job is to be friendly and helpful. They hear the same questions repeated every time we visit, sometimes multiple times per visit from the same person, and they are learning to respond clearly and politely, saying, “My name is Lena. This is Gil. He is a boy, and I am a girl.” They are learning to call the residents “our friends.”

For us, our local assisted living facility has been a gentle way to teach our kids that not everyone looks and talks and acts just like they do. I love seeing my children look at this part of the world with compassion instead of confusion or fear. The genuinely kind staff and residents are a joy to count among our friends in Coronado, too.

I’d love to know — as you think back on your childhood, what formed your mindset about “normal” and “comfort zone”? What did your parents or teachers do well (or not so well) to help you think compassionately about the world?

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14 Responses to Raising Compassionate Kids :: A Taste of the Real World

  1. Autumn March 19, 2015 at 12:51 am #

    I like this idea so much! I want to do this with my kids

    • Becca March 19, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      I hope we live close enough then that we can do it together!

  2. Linda March 19, 2015 at 6:32 am #

    You are doing such a good thing here. My elderly mother lives at a senior living residence here in our town. All of the residents are clearly delighted when little ones are present, especially so when they get to interact with them. My boys are much older (13 and 10) but have learned so much about compassion from being around the elderly.

    • Becca March 19, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      I love that someone else does this too! So good to hear that your older boys benefit from it just as much as my young ones do.

  3. Poppy March 19, 2015 at 9:09 am #


  4. Laura March 19, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    What a beautiful, compassionate thing to teach your kids. I love it!

    • Becca March 19, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

      Thank you, Laura!

  5. Alica March 19, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    This is a great thing, Becca! Those elderly people just love them, I’m sure, and I’ll bet your kids will have great memories of this.
    I don’t remember real specific things about my childhood, but my Dad was a part time pastor, and there was a real sense of “community”…where we lived and within our Church. It was just a given that when someone needed something…that you helped out! The inter-generational mix that came with it was SO valuable, and that’s one of the things that we like about our Church today. We all need each other in some way. Might as well learn it young!

    • Becca March 19, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

      I think churches like that are becoming more and more rare. Ours here in Coronado does strive to be that way, but it’s hard in such a transitional community. I do want to be that kind of friend, though, and to raise my kids with that mindset!

  6. Karen March 19, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    This is so inspiring! I have been thinking that I wanted to volunteer some place with my children, but I was worried that since they are so young (1 1/2 and 3 1/2) that I would spend most of my time running after them and not really helping. I am definitely going to look into this where I live.

    When I was young, my elementary school would go caroling every Christmas at a nursing home. Even though I always went, I found it terrifying. It was probably because it was just that one time each year. I like the idea of a weekly routine where they get used to what to expect and become familiar with the people there.

    • Becca March 19, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

      Yes, I remember being terrified the first time I started volunteering at one in college. It has the potential to be so so uncomfortable. I think I became a nurse partly because I was so terrified of hospitals and sick people and blood and I didn’t want to be that way anymore! Familiarity breeds confidence and grace, though, in kids as well as in adults. If you do anything for a short time with a purpose (in this case, a cooking class or craft or something, not just hanging out at the nursing home), it is bearable, fun, and fulfilling, I think.

  7. Joy @ Jumbled Up Joy March 20, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Love this! The pictures of Lena and Gil serving the pancakes are precious!

    Being born in Banladesh and spending most of my first decade there (and in Southeast Asia) gave me wide open eyes to the pain and suffering in the world. My parents also took us to Mother Theresa’s orphanage and homes in Calcutta, and other orphanages in Cairo and Chiang Mai.

    I hope I’m showing the kids lots that they can do, too, in their community. When my mom was working as an OT for ped’s, we would go visit her at work. It definitely gave me perspective, and I think for my kids as well! My grandparents have all passed away, but when my grandmas were still alive, we would visit them in their homes. This is such a great reminder to keep our eyes open and look for opportunities to serve our communities.

  8. Jessica March 23, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    This is a beautiful and encouraging post. I used to visit a nursing home weekly when I just had Hugh. I stopped about a month before Miah was born because of complications with my pregnancy and I never got back into it. Miah is such a harder child for me to guide and sometimes I wonder if maybe I just haven’t let her experience compassion as much as I put Hugh out there early on. I will have to try to get back out there. Thanks for the reminder Becca!


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