Teaching Your Child Compassion 1

My daughter falls down and starts crying, and her brother goes to her and asks if she needs ice.  Warms the heart.  But other times, he knocks her down or grabs a toy from her.  We all want our children to grow up with empathy, good citizens compassion for their fellow human beings.  Yet children are born inherently self oriented, I hate to say selfish because it’s developmentally appropriate.  So how do we teach our children about balancing others’ needs with their own?


  • Loving Brother and SisterShow empathy to your child.  Children are sponges; they learn by watching the important people in their lives.  Our preschool director, Fern Eisenberg, recommends stating the child’s feelings. In this article, Dr Laura Markham of Aha Parenting recommends setting empathetic limits.  In other words, your toddler starts screaming for your coffee, you can say, “You’re mad.  You really wanted that coffee cup.  But it’s my job to keep you safe.”

  • Discuss your child’s feelings. As your child’s verbal skills improve, talk about her feelings, and encourage her to as well. Ask, “are you mad or sad or happy?” When children are in touch with their own feelings, they’re more likely to understand a friend’s feelings.

  • Show empathy during disputes. Your child hits his sibling? Focus on the victim. “You’re hurting,” and involve your child, asking, “Should we get him ice? How can we help?”

  • Apologize. You are human and will make mistakes. You will occasionally lose your cool and yell, sometimes with your kids and sometimes with adults while your child is in earshot. Apologize. In front of or to your child. The best way for your child to be kind to others after he makes a mistake is to learn by watching you.

  • Use puppets. My daughter’s preschool teacher is fabulous with puppets. I frequently walk in to her puppets fighting over toys, one being hurt, and them getting a puppet ice. Lisa recently blogged about this topic Social Stories & Puppets: Powerful, Fun Tools to Teach Children.

  • Help a friend out. Your friend posts on facebook that her family has the flu, or they just had a new baby? Cook them a meal, and ask your child to help. My son loves cooking but even more, delivering the meal with me and meeting the families that we help out.

  • Accept help. Like many “givers,” I have a hard time accepting help. When my kids are sick, my fellow volunteers always offer to bring me dinner.  “I’m fine,” I always reply. But, then I started thinking, do I really want my children to think that they should always do for others but never let others do for them? Doesn’t sound too healthy. I realized that I need to shows my kids that it is best to give and receive. Letting go and accepting that meal or babysitting trade shows my children that it’s ok to be vulnerable.

  • Volunteer. In addition to or instead of writing a check, volunteer in person, so that your child can help. We bring toys to the toy drive, and my son chooses from his unopened gifts which to donate. We attend the annual glitter walk, and my children help to clean up the beach. Whatever your interest, involve your whole family. Just be sure to check with the organizer in advance about the age appropriateness of the activity.


How do you develop compassion in your children?


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