There’s little doubt that more compassion is needed in today’s world. From global conflict to family disagreements, compassion provides a solution to many of our problems. As parents, one way to approach this situation is to foster compassion in our children. Through the children in your life, you have the ability to change the mindset of the next generation⏤away from conflict and towards more compassion. Amidst the daily routine and pressures of life, however, how do we foster and prioritize compassion in our children? Looking at the research, we learn that compassion is formed not always from big, dramatic actions but from the daily habits that we establish with our children.
What is Compassion?
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “compassion?” Perhaps images of helping a homeless person on the side of the street or maybe donating money to help those in need. Or maybe it’s something as simple as bringing a meal to a friend who’s been ill. All these can be considered compassionate actions.
From a research perspective, there’s been quite a lot of discussion on the concept of compassion and what it really means. The word “compassion” is often thought of synonymously with words like “empathy,” “kindness,” or “sympathy.” While there are many similarities, some of the differences are worth exploring. Compassion is thought of as “a feeling of concern for a suffering other that involves a desire to alleviate their pain.” Using this definition, the focus is placed centrally on the role of suffering. This is what largely distinguishes compassion from related concepts like empathy or kindness. Empathy has to do with being able to read and, in a sense, feel the emotions of other people. While this is an important precursor to compassion, it focuses solely on the other person’s emotional state, not their suffering. Similarly, kindness or having a kind orientation is related to compassion. Kindness, however, is a more general concept that includes an orientation toward another person’s well-being and caring for them. Once again, compassion focuses more directly on trying to relieve the suffering of another person.
These distinctions don’t just help us understand more about compassion, but also help us when we consider ways to foster compassion in our children. If we understand the totality of what compassion really means, we can direct our efforts towards actions that will foster these skills in our children.
Tips for Fostering Compassion in Children
Experts like positive psychology coach Kelly Miller suggest that fostering compassion is kind of like building up a muscle. With consistent practice, it increases in strength and becomes easier to repeat. In daily life, then, the goal becomes to find ways to help our children practice their compassion “muscle” on a regular basis.
A few ideas for fostering compassion in children:
- Model: It’s often repeated in many areas of parenting that modeling is the most powerful strategy we have. In terms of fostering compassion, this is especially true. Children learn from what they observe. When we show compassion to others in our daily interactions, children learn the value and importance of compassion. Showing compassion for others could be as simple as bringing food to a neighbor who is struggling or volunteering time at a food pantry.
- Expand Their Circle: Experts such as leaders at the Making Caring Common organization suggest that for children to express compassion for others, they need to understand the suffering of others. This means expanding children’s “circle of concern” to extend to others outside their immediate family or group of friends. As age-appropriate, you can help expand their children’s circle of concern by discussing how other people live in different parts of the world. You might bring up world events and explain how they impact others. Even in your own community, you can help children understand individuals who are different from themselves in life circumstances, opportunities, and any hardships they may experience.
- Prioritize Compassion: Oftentimes, as parents, we get caught up in our daily routine and may not realize that compassion has fallen off our list of priorities for our children. For example, we may mention to our children how we hope they are happy but may not emphasize the need to be compassionate and kind to others as a way to happiness. We may focus on our children’s academic progress but not consider how well they are exemplifying good friendship and caring for their classmates. Thus, to put compassion back on the priority list, we can emphasize to children that while doing well academically is important, it is equally important to be a compassionate friend and neighbor.
- Studies find that many children believe their parents value achievement and success more than being a kind, compassionate person. This illustrates how, although we may place a high value on compassion in our children, the message may not always get through to them. Reinforcing the value and need for compassion on a regular basis can be helpful to children.
We all want to raise compassionate children. With messages to the contrary all around them, helping children focus on compassion and kindness can be challenging. The good news is that fostering compassion in children does not require a fancy curriculum or extensive planning. Every day, through conversation and modeling, we can help our children grow into compassionate individuals who are aware of the suffering and needs of others.
Preview Blurb: Is it possible to raise compassionate children despite the harshness of the world around us? Most parents want to raise compassionate children who care about others. This doesn’t necessitate any special skills or a fancy curriculum. By being intentional with our words and choices, we can raise children who show compassion to others. Click through to learn how our daily interactions can help our children develop compassion.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.