The following article by Signe Whitson was recently posted on the Huffington Post. Signe Whitson is a school counselor, author, and national speaker on topics related to stopping bullying and promoting children's mental health.
8 Ways to Teach Compassion to Kids
1. Walk the Talk
Children may listen to your words, but more importantly, they learn from
observing your actions. When you have a chance to practice a random act of
compassion, do so! When you are frustrated in an interpersonal interaction,
express your displeasure in words that show respect for the dignity of the
person you are addressing. When you encounter a person who needs help, stop
what you are doing and tend to them, even (read: especially!) if it is not
particularly convenient to do so. Remember: opportunities to show compassion do
not occur by appointment. Show young people that anytime is the right time to
engage in acts of service and compassion for others.
2. Put the Child on the Receiving End of Compassion
While showing compassion to others is a top way to teach this value to a child,
allowing a young person to experience compassion first-hand is even more
impactful. When your child is hurt or sick, be sure to provide abundant TLCC
(tender, loving, compassionate care.) It may sound obvious, but tending to a
child when he is feeling down or under the weather is the best way to teach him
how to show compassion to others.
3. Talk the Talk
Most children can learn about true compassion by seeing and feeling this trait
acted out, but when parents talk explicitly about acts of compassion, they
communicate its importance as a prized family value. As you watch television or
movies with your child, be sure to point out instances where compassion was
shown -- or should have been shown! Talk about people who particularly need
compassion, such as the elderly and children living in poverty.
4. Volunteer Your Time
When children become actively involved in acts of showing compassion to others,
they learn about this value in a very deep and enduring way. Find
age-appropriate ways to introduce your child to volunteering, such as visiting
a nursing home and sharing a craft activity with a resident, serving a meal at
a homeless shelter, helping to organize a canned food drive, collecting coats
to donate to needy children, or even participating in a charity walk for a
specific cause. These activities are at once meaningful and fun, which makes
them especially effective in getting kids to routinely think compassionately
about the needs of others.
5. Care for a Pet
Bringing a pet into a family is certainly not a step to be taken lightly or
impulsively, but it is worth giving serious consideration to providing your
young person with the experience of caring for an animal, as a way to foster
compassion. Children who care for pets learn important values such as
responsibility, unconditional love, empathy, and compassion for all living
6. Read All About It
Children's books are great for providing a window into the experiences of
others. As a School Counselor, my go-to children's writer is Trudy Ludwig, the
award-winning author of such books as My Secret Bully (my all-time favorite pick
for sparking conversations with kids about bullying and relational aggression)
and The Invisible Boy, a great read for
inspiring empathy and compassion for young people who find themselves on the
periphery of school social hierarchies. For older kids, check out biographies
of famous figureheads of compassion, such as the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa.
7. Compassion It™
In recent years, rubber wristbands have become a ubiquitous symbol of causes
and concerns. While most of the messages are positive and inspiring, I must
admit that their sheer common-ness resulted in me stopping reading the various
messages on friends' wrists. Until recently. I noticed a two-tone band that a
relative was turning over and felt compelled to ask about it. It was a Compassion It band, she explained.
Every morning, she puts the band on her wrist with its black side facing
outward, as a personal reminder to act compassionately toward someone else.
When such an act is committed each day, she turns the bracelet to its white
What a great idea
-- so simple, yet such a powerful reminder to prioritize kindness and make
compassion a part of her everyday routine. Needless to say, I went online and
bought a band for myself and one for each of my daughters right away. Does this
turn compassion into a chore, you may ask. Am I making kindness into a To-Do
list item for my kids, you wonder. Nope, not at all, I say with confidence.
Quite the contrary: the bands have turned compassion into an everyday topic of
conversation in our household and has effectively elevated kindness into a
priority in each of our days. Best. Bracelet. Ever.
8. Make a Wish
Acts of life-changing compassion can be only a click away. Use the internet to
introduce your child to different charitable organizations that provide
compassionate assistance to others. The Make-a-Wish Foundation provides hope,
strength, and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. While
for younger kids, the site may be too heart-wrenching or scary, older kids can
have a truly impactful experience of being able to provide tangible help and
joy to a peer. The experience can be life-changing for both giver and receiver.
For additional information and articles, please visit www.signewhitson.com.