4 ways to teach kids about compassion

4 ways to teach kids about compassion

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

Today, bloggers all over the world are joining forces and words to be 1000 Voices for Compassion. The aim is to flood both the online and real world with good and compassion. It is no coincidence that today is also World Day of Social Justice.

While I know that entire books have been written on the subject, I believe that author R.J. Palaccio summed it quite nicely with the tagline for her book Wonder: Choose Kind. I love that so much, and I think it’s an easy phrase that sticks with kids.

On a more technical level, Merriam-Webster defines “compassion” as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

What hit me about that definition is the concept of consciousness of others and how often kids are lacking in that necessary awareness, which made me a little nervous. Turns out, though, that I’m wrong.

Scientific research shows that compassion and and generosity are fundamental to human nature, writes Sarah Rudell Beach on her blog Left Brain Buddha. “[P]eople have a natural capacity for empathy, love, and compassion, and that it can be deliberately deepened and expanded—to include even so-called ‘bullies’— through training,” says Brooke Dodson-Lavelle on the Greater Good Science Center website.

So, fear not, parents! Science is on your side! But just to go about it? Here are four ways to teach kids about compassion.

Make it clear that you expect compassion

Talk to kids about how it really is human nature. Remind them that compassion is not new, as the Aesop q1uote above shows. Given them some examples of concrete way to show compassion, be it a formal volunteer effort or a casual kind word. Praise small efforts, because often a gesture that does not seem significant to one can make a huge impact on someone else.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – Plato

The short and sweet phrase “choose kind” can be repeated at the start of the day, when dropping off at the school dance and when bickering breaks out at the dinner table. It’s shorthand that reminds your kids that you expect them to be compassionate.

Talk about compassion – you can even do it daily

When talking about our day in the evening, I ask my daughter two questions:

Who helped you today?


Who did you help today?

Admittedly, she sometimes rolls her eyes. She wasn’t thrilled when she realized this was a daily question, but after some time when she realized it was going to be a regular question (and that I wasn’t going to stop), she started to have answers ready.

I’ll be honest – I don’t know that it dramatically altered her behavior, but at a minimum she knows that helping others, which I believe is part of compassion, was important to me and expected of her.

Also, provide answers to those two questions yourself. Parents modeling compassion is hugely important.

Read Books about Compassion

Common Sense Media offers a list of book that teach empathy for tweens and a list for teens. I think empathy and compassion go hand in hand, and these books are great places to start a conversation.

There are other great books that illustrate the power of compassion, and one that springs to mind is Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya van Wagenen. It is when Maya shows compassion and respect for her fellow students that she makes the greatest strides in her quest to become popular.

Appeal to Their Self Interest

I know, I know, it’s counter-intuitive and rather defeats the point, but research from the University of California, Riverside showed tweens ages 9-11 who performed acts of kindness towards others were happier and also tended to be the students with whom their classmates wanted to spend time.

Perhaps Booker T. Washington said it best, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

Jackie DeShannon had the right idea, too, when she sang, “What the World Needs Now.” Check it out here:

As I said, I’m not the only one talking compassion today. Check out these post by fellow ChicagoNow bloggers:

Speaking with compassion: Sticks and stones can break your bones – and words can really hurt, too on Raising World Citizens

Reeks of Compassion on I Got a Dumpster Family!

We Are All Worth the Risk on Becoming SuperMommy

Find all the posts from 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion here.

You May Also Like: Review of Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, the tale of a tween who broke the rules of middle school

Prior Post: Facts about the Year of the Sheep for Lunar New Year

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