Teaching Compassion

This morning I asked a year six boy what he thought the most important value was for kids. He said, “Kindness.” I asked him what kindness means to him and he said it means to be kind to other kids and then they would be kind to you. He’s on to something!



Thousands of years ago, sages in every culture taught a maxim of compassion we call the Golden Rule. “Do to others what you would like them to do to you.” This is the core reason for compassion — a knowledge that what comes around goes around.

Share and someone will share with you.

Care and someone will care for you.

Hard-wired into our early brain development, kindness is much deeper than a self-serving survival strategy. Compassion — which literally means “to suffer together” — builds strong bonds, friendships and relationships. When we feel compassion, it changes us. Our heart rate slows. Our brain releases oxytocin — the bonding hormone — and the regions of the brain responsible for empathy, caregiving, and pleasure engage. In short, being kind makes us happy.

In a world which teaches us to put ourselves first, how do we as parents teach our children to care for the needs of others? Once we get them started in compassionate behaviour, their brain’s reward system should take over and encourage them to be kind again and again.

Here are a few ideas for giving compassion a kick-start in your children:

Model Compassion: Do acts of kindness in front of your children. When you see someone drop something, pick it up and give it to them with a kind word. Help out at school functions. Hold the door for others. Always give to buskers. Back off in traffic to allow other cars to merge. After you do these things, talk about them with your children. What you did will combine with why you did it to bring compassion alive in your child’s mind.

A Family Pet: Get a pet that requires consistent but simple care — like hermit crabs or a mouse. As a family, design a list of care requirements and keep it next to the pet’s cage. Talk about the care rules as you follow them each day. After a few weeks with the pet in a shared area, move the cage and care rules into your child’s room for a weekend.

Service Activities: Get involved in activities where your family can give back to the community. Help serve at a soup kitchen. Donate a couple of hours to a local opshop. Help at working bees. Donate supplies to Breaky Club.

Values are caught not taught. Give your children the best chance to have a values-rich life by modelling and discussing the values you believe will benefit them. Start by seeing, sharing and caring for the suffering around you — this is compassion.

Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...