Teaching Kids about Compassion and Empathy

When I was finishing my graduate studies in psychology, one piece of raising children stuck out to me – that of teaching empathy.

Science now shows that children are born with empathy. It’s the reason they begin to cry when another baby or child cries. This is truly their (our) natural state. However, we get culturally conditioned out of being empathetic.

Q: What can you do to ensure your child’s natural empathetic style stays with them through adulthood?

A: Be empathetic yourself – as a parent, as a partner, as a human being.

That means…

  • Be kind to those you interact with,
  • Be vigilant about helping others in need,
  • Be forgiving,
  • Be vocal about your feelings and express them healthily,
  • Reward and acknowledge acts of kindness,
  • And integrate volunteering or charity work into your lifestyle.

Kids inherently understand how to be empathetic, however, we must foster that behavior in them in order for it to thrive. When kids are empathetic, they are less likely to bully others and more likely to take a stand for those in need.

I highly encourage parents to get their kids involved into charity work and volunteering at a young age. We’ve had kids come along and integrated them into some of our own volunteer efforts, and I’m amazed at how they just “get it.”

Here are some ideas in how you can integrate volunteering as a way of life for your children.

  • Run food drives, lemonade stands or baked goods sales and donate the profits to a local charity that your kids can learn about and be a part of.
  • Research volunteer opportunities that allow children – search www.volunteermatch.org or www.unitedway.org (Ensure the opportunities are age appropriate)
  • Make or create crafts, baskets, or other goodies to give to senior citizens, children’s homes or other place where gifts are accepted.
  • Schedule a community or neighborhood cleanup day and show the importance of taking care of our planet.

What other ways have you seen to teach empathy or include your children in volunteer work? There are plenty more ideas – let’s hear them!

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