Compassion starts on your street

A glimpse of Weeds and Flowers - a game that aims to build compassion and resilience

Building compassion in children could start with a board game. Preferably one like the picture above! When we ‘play’ with people we feel more connected and when we are connected we are more able to be compassionate. And compassion it turns out, is wonderful for our mental health.

To be clear, compassion is different to empathy in that you not only feel for a person, you act on that feeling to actually do something to help. Compassion is also different from altruism because instead of acting in a way simply because it is right thing to do, you do something because you care about it. That caring part is where the magic comes in for our mental health. The research on what kindness does for our brain is indeed extensive and uplifting.

Therefore number 5 on our Checklist for Your Mind poster is “Connect with people”. We find ourselves in a period of time where we have never been so digitally connected so this may seem like a ridiculous invitation for your mental health. Yet our reported levels of loneliness have never been so high. In fact, the UK has appointed it’s first ever Minister for Loneliness to try and address this ever growing concern. Which is brilliant for two reasons:

  1. A lack of social connection can be a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure

  2. It sends a wonderful message to the people of the United Kingdom that their government cares about loneliness.

However, at Grow Your Mind, we tend to align ourselves with social researcher, Hugh Mckay who feels that: “The state of the nation starts in your street”. We love it, because the emphasis is not on someone else higher up doing something about a problem. Instead, the focus shifts to how we connect to people on a day to day basis. Are we friendly, do we smile? Do we know our neighbour’s name? Could you ask them for help if you had a problem and vice versa? When we are connected we feel seen, valued and heard. When we are connected we can actually show compassion to those around us. But one can’t really happen without the other.

Compassion it turns out has a host of emotional wellbeing benefits. As I have made mention to in other blogs, even Charles Darwin argued for its importance. In Darwin’s, ‘The Decent of Man’, ‘‘survival of the fittest’’ was only mentioned twice and the word LOVE was mentioned 95 times. In fact, Darwin argued that “communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring” So it turns out that compassion helps us survive AND helps us thrive.

Which is why at Grow Your Mind we are always looking for ways to cultivate compassion. For it is something we all can grow. Our kits offer invitations to be compassionate and our latest resource, Weeds and Flowers, was designed purely to encourage play which leads to connection.

The game is amass with messages of resilience, compassion and emotional regulation. If you land on a statement like “You sell cakes and donate the money to charity” you will travel up a glorious flower but if you land on something like “You laugh at someone in an unkind way” you find yourself sliding down a prickly weed.

There is an important message in here, the weed you land on might just put you in a far better position of landing on a bigger flower. You see, sometimes it is hard to show compassion, especially when people bug us. And sometimes we stuff up and that’s ok too, our greatest growth can come from our struggles, our mistakes and our moments of being a total bucket dipper. It’s all about what we do after these tricky times, do we show self-compassion? Or do we blame ourselves, ruminate or blame people around us?

Sometimes our ‘weedy’ moments lead to our greatest growth

Compassion and connection are inseparable in our opinion. During mental health month this year we are taking our game (in an enlarged version) around schools and community events. We will be encouraging young and old to play it. Our dream is that micro moments of connection may occur, that compassion may follow and that the ripple effect will continue to grow long after people have finished playing.

So how do you grow compassion and connection in yourself and your children?

  1. Start with self-compassion: just notice what you say to yourself after a low parenting moment, or what your child says after a mistake. Follow this guide to self-compassion by Kristen Neff.

  2. Get to know your neighbours: make muffins for them, leave some flowers on their door, write them a note and then watch the ripple effect.

  3. Play, play and play: get the board games out, join in your child’s pretend play, jump on the trampoline, dance up a storm, watch the magic unfold.

  4. Be present: put down your phone, the greatest gift you can give someone is your attention. Sit down and make yourself available. None of us will get to the end of our lives and wish we had spent more time on our phones.

*You can pre order our Weeds and Flowers game here, do so within the next few weeks and it will arrive before Christmas!