Compassion: to respond to the misfortune of others with concern, sympathy, and kindness.

Instilling those values in your children is a noble goal, especially in the reactionary world of today where opposing opinions are enough to shut down empathy from both sides. As Richard Castle said: “sometimes the hardest things in life are the things most worth doing.” With that wisdom in mind, here are 4 strategies for raising a compassionate child.

  1. Show your kids what compassion looks like – Whether they admit it or not, you are their role model. Embody the compassion you want to pass on. This is especially effective when performed on your own children – a rough day at school and the ensuing sadness and/or anger is the perfect opportunity to show them what being there for someone looks like. Sit down with them, let them vent, let them cry, reassure them that there’s nothing wrong with either, and then talk with them about constructive ways to work through those emotions.
  2. Promote volunteerism within the family – The very nature of the work, of donating your time and skills toward a cause that needs your help, is compassion in action. It can also provide helpful job experience and promote the work ethic that goes along with it. By volunteering right alongside your children, you can demonstrate compassion, and foster a caring nature. Kids are never too young to volunteer!
  3. Beware of the fundamental attribution error – This psychological concept states that people tend to emphasize dispositional factors in others, and situational factors in themselves. For example, if I received a bad grade on an assignment, it’s because I was having a bad day, or I didn’t sleep enough, or the teacher didn’t give me enough time to study, etc. However, if someone else got a bad grade, it’s because they’re bad at the subject. It’s hard to foster compassion for others when viewing their errors as innate defects in their character. Take time with your kids to see the difference.
  4. Promote face-to-face interactions among your children and their friends – This is something I’ve mentioned before in other posts, and for good reason. There is simply no substitute (digital or otherwise) for building compassion and empathy. Spending time with others, and seeing how their language and behavior affects others, is vital. Kindness is reinforced by seeing the smile of its recipient, and rudeness is punished by the anger or sadness it catalyzes.

During the Covid19 pandemic, as face-to-face interaction is not possible, help your kids seek out meaningful ways to connect to family and friends. A few ways we’ve seen in action are Facetime, Zoom or other virtual face-to-face interactions, meeting outside to talk 6+ feet apart and showing up outside a friend or family member’s window with hand-made signs of love. 

As always, I encourage you to think of your own ways to add to add to this list. It is by no means exhaustive, and you know your children better than anyone.

Just remember that compassion is teachable, and with the right strategies, any child can develop it.

– By Seth Gilbert