How to Teach Children Compassion

Set of hands illustration titled: Teaching Children Compassion.

Teaching children what compassion means is simple. It’s defined as the desire to help someone who’s in distress. Compassion, in other words, is a feeling and an act, and the best way to teach it is to put it into action.

Compassion in Action

The best way to teach children how to be compassionate is to show them how to volunteer. As I explained in an earlier post, I learned at a young age that giving to others should be just as natural as providing for myself. My children have also learned the importance of giving back by volunteering in their community. They donate clothing, clean up the local park, visit nursing homes, and more.

It’s one thing to learn about kindness in the classroom and another to volunteer. Hands-on experience makes volunteering more personal to children and instills in them the desire to help others. All we need to do is get these children involved.

Getting Involved

Education and experience are two important factors in getting students to volunteer, according to some of the statistics highlighted in an infographic by Open Colleges. It reports that the average number of students who volunteered in college was 10% higher among those who had volunteered during high school.

But volunteering isn’t the only way to help students become more compassionate. Even encouraging them to give back to the community can help. According to the infographic, 86.2% of high school students who had to do community service did more than they were required to do. This suggests that simply getting started goes a long way in helping students become compassionate volunteers.

Starting Early

If you want your child to grow into a compassionate young adult, start teaching him or her compassion early. Marilynn Price-Mitchell, PhD, compares building compassion to building muscles. “Children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically engaged adolescents and adults,” she says. Putting compassion into practice early on can set a precedent that lasts. “During the teen years, they reach deep within themselves, access these muscles, and develop social and civic identities that last a lifetime.”

Becoming a Compassionate Adult

Exercising compassion is an important part of becoming an adult. It’s part of civic literacy, or understanding your role and responsibilities within the community. It can also help students avoid conflict and work well with others in college or in the professional world.

Students need to have compassion for themselves as well as for others. They need to recognize how and when to take care of themselves, which is part of becoming a self-advocate. This allows them to make the right decisions for the future.

To help your children develop compassion, help them seek volunteer opportunities. December 5th is International Volunteer Day, so now is the time to get started. Below are some ways to kick off the process.

Discussing Compassion
  1. See how many terms your child can define:
  • Condolence
  • Humanity
  • Kindness
  • Mercy
  • Empathy
  • Sensitivity
  • Understanding
  • Benevolence
  • Generosity
  • Philanthropy

How does each term relate to compassion?

  1. Discuss the following ways to show compassion. What are your student’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Uses active listening during conversations.
  • Says encouraging things to cheer others up.
  • Does nice things for others without expecting anything in return.
  • Respects the privacy of others; avoids gossip.
  • Shows interest in others by reaching out.

What are some other ways to show compassion?

  1. Remember:
  • Everyone is different, so recognize the unique ways your child exercises compassion.
  • Children should be aware that others prefer to receive compassion in different ways. One person might appreciate a hug, while another may simply want a few kind words.
  • Different situations require different types of compassion. Children must understand how to adapt to different situations, whether he or she is comforting a friend or donating clothes to someone in need.

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