Most parents I know say they want to raise kind and empathetic children. But in a world that often feels divided and unjust, we frequently find ourselves without helpful guidelines for how to raise compassionate kids.
Sometimes we go through tough seasons in our lives that leave us feeling cautious and distrustful.
For example, do any of the following scenarios feel familiar to you?
You discover that your niece is being bullied at school.
Your neighbor complains that your trees have grown too tall.
A car cuts you off on the freeway.
You listen to the news and hear about more divisive politics.
Considering all of these icky situations and the range of hard emotions we may encounter, figuring out the best ways to teach our children how to be kind and empathetic human beings can feel like a daunting task.
How to Raise Compassionate Kids
Here are some simple strategies that you’ll be able to implement right away!
1. Start at Home
Are you familiar with the following quote?
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
– Mother Teresa
We have this quote hanging up in our living room where I can see it every single day. Because it is a powerful reminder for me that the love I hope to bring to the world needs to begin within the four walls of my home.
And while we all know that Mother Teresa is a shining example of a woman who went out into the world to spread love, assistance, and kindness, she knew that the foundation of peace begins within our immediate family.
No family is perfect. We know this. But when we nurture a foundation of love, compassion, and respect, this becomes the standard by which we strive to treat each other.
Begin at home.
2. read Books
I remember books I read as a child that left such an impact on me, that to this day, I still reflect on the lessons they taught me.
I’ll bet you can think of some too.
There are so many incredible stories that confront issues like bullying, racism, sexism, and other forms of exclusion. Stories that are infused with examples of bravery, inclusion, respect, empathy, and love.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed because you’re not sure where to start, check out one of the following titles, depending on the age and stage of your children. I adore each one of these books!
Picture Book: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Elementary School: The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech
Middle School: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
High School: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Never underestimate the power of story.
3. practice small Actions that Matter
Sometimes we’re so busy focusing on all of the obligations in our lives that feel really BIG, that we lose sight of how meaningful our small actions are.
How do you treat the checker at your local grocery store? Do you offer a warm smile and ask how they’re doing?
What about the mother struggling with her stroller while trying to wrangle her toddler? Do you hold the door open for her?
When you’re at a gathering and you notice someone sitting alone, do you introduce yourself and invite them to join your conversation?
Do you call your friend who just returned with her son from the ER, and let her know you’ve been thinking of her?
These actions don’t cost money.
And they usually don’t take much time either.
But they do require that we pay attention to the people around us.
That we pay attention and respond.
4. stop Gossiping
We’re old enough to know better.
Yet it’s so common to get caught up in gossip. A harmless comment turns into an observation which becomes a judgment that can then spiral out of control. The next thing we know we’re engaging in gossip that we know would be hurtful to the person we’re talking about.
And guess what happens when our kids hear us saying unkind things about other people?
They learn that it’s acceptable to talk behind another person’s back.
I know we’re imperfect human beings who mess up and make mistakes, and this includes sliding into the dangers of gossip. But as grown-ups, we know better. So let’s try and do better, OK?
Let’s do our best to put an end to the gossip.
5. Care for Pets
So much can be learned about common decency through caring for pets.
Not to mention responsibility!
Now if you don’t have a pet, don’t worry. Pet-sitting and spending time with other families who are pet owners will suffice!
Learning how to approach animals and care for them in gentle and consistent ways, is an excellent way to teach children how living beings should be treated.
Pets teach us so very much about compassion.
6. say You’re Sorry
Why is it so hard to say “I’m sorry”?
Especially when these two simple words are so healing and powerful.
We need to be brave enough to admit when we’ve made a mistake, or when we’ve lashed out or hurt someone in another way.
Think about a time when you were wronged and then the person who wronged you apologized.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly anger and hurt can evaporate when someone offers a sincere apology?
When it’s appropriate, apologize.
7. create a Story to Explain Someone’s Bad Behavior
I know, this might seem a little strange at first, but I promise it’s a powerful tool!
I started doing this a few years ago and experienced the benefits immediately.
It goes something like this…
You have an icky encounter with someone unpleasant. You experience a variety of hostile emotions. But then you decide that perhaps this person is currently going through something in their life that caused this icky encounter.
Here are a couple of examples:
A woman has been tailgating me and when she has the opportunity, she rushes past, flipping me off and yelling.
And while this understandably ignites anger, I decide that maybe the woman is upset because she is in a rush to get to her son, who is sick at home with a sitter.
Or perhaps my neighbor is complaining about my kids making too much noise while playing in the backyard. Immediately, I feel frustration rising, but then I decide that my neighbor might be dealing with chronic pain, which puts him on edge.
Are my created scenarios true?
Maybe, maybe not.
But they allow me more peace from which to move forward. I am better able to respond in a patient and kind manner. And I’m reminded that we all have times in our lives that are particularly difficult when we aren’t acting as our best selves.
If you think this could help you too, try creating a story the next time you are on the receiving end of hostility.
8. identify Real-Life Compassionate People
What people in your life embody compassion?
Talk with your kids about examples of real-life compassion that you’ve been able to witness. Look at the lives of people you admire, whether you know them personally or not.
Real-life compassionate people truly do abound, and remember that small actions of kindness matter!
9. Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
At times in our lives when we are misunderstood, excluded, or judged, it is common to feel completely alone.
Is there a worse feeling than loneliness?
Feeling alone is awful. But I’m guessing that some of these painful times have also helped to grow your compassion.
I believe so strongly that when we stretch ourselves by stepping outside of our comfort zone, our awareness and empathy increase.
Spending time with people who are different than us is invaluable. Different religions, ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic groups, and varied interests. Instead of backing away for fear we won’t have anything in common, how about leaning in and seeing what we can learn?
I know it’s scary, but I’d like for us to try to step outside of our comfort zones.
10. celebrate Acts of Kindness
It’s easy to feel discouraged when we’re bombarded with divisive headlines and tragic news events. When we have rough days involving people who are rude and hostile, it’s challenging to practice being positive and hopeful.
But I’m confident that there is still good happening all around you.
So try and pay close attention, OK?
And when you see these acts of kindness, even when they’re really small, I want you to celebrate them.
Smile when you see the young man helping an older gentleman with his grocery bags.
Say thank you when someone holds the door open for you.
Feel grateful when a friend asks how you are after a hard day.
None of us is perfect. I get that. We’re not going to be able to do all of these things all of the time. No doubt we’ll have plenty of days when we’re tired, cranky, and short-tempered. But when we practice these actions to the best of our ability, our attitudes, (and the benefits to those around us) shift in meaningful ways!
To recap, here are 10 simple ways to raise compassionate kids:
- Start at Home
- Read Books
- Practice Small Actions That Matter
- Stop Gossiping
- Care for Pets
- Say You’re Sorry
- Create a Story for Someone’s Bad Behavior
- Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
- Identify Compassionate People
- Celebrate Acts of Kindness
If most days we’re able to put our best foot forward and practice these ways of being in the world, we’ll be well on our way to raising compassionate kids!