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Teaching Compassion: How to Raise a Caring Child

Discover practical strategies for instilling compassion in your child. Learn how to shape them into caring and empathetic individuals with Slumberkins.

As a caregiver, nothing warms your heart quite like seeing your young child show consideration and caring without being prompted. Whether it’s offering a hug to a crying sibling or reaching out to a lonely classmate, you want your child to not only imagine how others feel but also reach out when help is needed.

Teaching compassion is one of the greatest life lessons to teach your child and one of the most critical aspects of your work in raising an emotionally intelligent child.

But how can we teach a trait like compassion? Luckily, you can use many valuable strategies, from fostering empathy through perspective-taking to modeling kindness through your own behavior. This guide will explore practical strategies to raise a compassionate child.

How Do You Explain Compassion to a Child?

Understanding compassion is the first step towards cultivating it. Compassion is closely tied to empathy, but it goes beyond simply being able to imagine another person’s feelings. It also includes the desire to help, to prevent sadness or suffering if we can.

When it comes to teaching empathy to your child, simplicity is the key. Relatable real-life examples can also help. 

  • Talk about times when someone showed compassion toward them – “Remember when you dropped your ice cream, so your brother shared his? He wanted to help you feel better.”
  • Talk about times they showed compassion – “It was nice that you invited Sarah to your birthday party. You realized she might be lonely at a new school, and you thought of a way to be kind to her.”
  • Point out compassionate behavior in the media – While watching TV or reading books, discuss how the characters might be feeling. Talk about what might comfort them or make the situation better.

How to Teach Compassion to Kids

Most children develop feelings of empathy and compassion naturally with age. For example, by age 2, children will try to help others achieve a goal. Similarly, 3- and 4-year-olds will share resources with friends and even strangers. 

However, you can help deepen your child’s innate ability for compassionate behavior by creating a nurturing environment at home. Here are 10 ways to get started teaching compassion in early childhood.

#1 Modeling Compassionate Behavior

Perhaps the best way to teach compassion is simply to show it in daily life. Children model their behavior on what they see their caregivers doing, and you have opportunities to demonstrate compassion to your young child every day. 

Small acts of kindness that help model compassion include:

  • Helping a neighbor in need
  • Holding a door for a stranger
  • Stopping to help a lost dog
  • Complimenting someone
  • Buying a coffee for someone behind you at the drive-through
  • Giving food to an unhoused person

#2 Fostering Empathy Through Perspective-Taking

Encouraging children to understand the feelings of others is essential for building compassion. Try talking with your child about how others might feel in different situations whenever you can to help them understand people’s feelings better. 

Opportunities to imagine another viewpoint are nearly endless. Try encouraging your child to take the perspective of:

  • Characters in books – “What do you think Yeti felt when that happened?”
  • Friends – “I wonder how Katie felt when she fell down?”
  • Siblings – “Which one of these do you think your sister would pick? Why would she like it?”
  • Pets – “Does Mittens seem happier when you pet her hard or gently?”

Your child will enjoy using their imagination to put themselves in another’s shoes while building the ability to consider how their actions affect those around them.

#3 Selecting Books and Stories with Compassionate Themes

Stories are one of our most powerful tools for exploring the feelings of others and the ways kindness can shape the world. Choose books that combine an engaging story with messages of empathy and compassion, like:

#4 Encouraging Caring Behavior in Daily Life

Acknowledging and reinforcing acts of kindness in daily life helps children understand the impact of their actions on others. Try narrating to your child when you see them sharing, helping a friend, or showing empathy toward someone who is upset. 

Recognizing and celebrating these acts of kindness will help your child notice the good feelings that come from showing compassion and feel motivated to continue.

#5 Volunteering and Community Involvement

Showing compassion for people beyond their friends and family doesn’t come as quickly to young children. Engaging children in age-appropriate volunteer activities can help them practice extending compassion to people they don’t know personally and learn that it’s just as valuable as compassion towards our immediate circle. Participating in kindness activities for preschoolers can help your young child understand the impact of a compassionate action and encourage them to continue.

Even young children can get involved with volunteering. Try:

  • Asking for volunteer opportunities at your local library
  • Picking up trash in your neighborhood or a local park
  • Collecting donations for a food drive
  • Gathering old toys and clothes to donate 

#6 Teaching Gratitude as a Component of Compassion

Gratitude and compassion are virtues that go hand-in-hand. When children practice gratitude for the kindness they receive, they build a deeper understanding of why it’s important to show kindness toward others.

Gratitude activities can help kids consciously reflect on acts of kindness others have shown them. As a family, try:

  • Writing thank-you cards
  • Keeping a gratitude jar or journal 
  • Writing a note of appreciation for a special teacher
  • Sharing what you’re grateful for around the dinner table each evening

#7 Handling Conflict Resolution with Compassion

Disagreements are a challenge for all of us, but they’re also an excellent chance to put compassion into action. Show your child compassionate ways to approach conflict resolution by:

  • Teaching problem-solving skills – Encourage your child to work with others to identify the root cause of disagreements and brainstorm solutions. Emphasize the importance of listening to both sides and looking for compromises.
  • Practicing “I” statements – Help your child learn to approach disagreements by expressing their feelings, not placing blame. This means using phrases like, “I felt hurt when I didn’t get a turn,” instead of “You never share.” 
  • Focusing on solutions – Encourage your child to think about resolving problems instead of arguing about who is to blame. For example, instead of arguing with their sibling about who knocked over a glass of water, they could work together to clean up the mess.

#8 Encouraging Open Communication and Active Listening

Effective communication is a cornerstone of healthy relationships that your child will rely on throughout their life. Here are some tips for encouraging strong communication skills:

  • Model active listening – Remember to give your child your full attention during conversations. Ask questions, and repeat back what you hear them saying.
  • Talk about feelings – Help your child learn that it’s okay to openly talk about their emotions by showing and talking about your own feelings. Communicate with your child about how they are feeling, and let them know that all emotions are okay.
  • Practice naming emotions – A great social-emotional learning activity to try with your kids is to name emotions. Kids don’t start out with the vocabulary or experience to recognize all the emotions they experience. Reflective listening can help build your child’s emotional vocabulary. When you see your child acting out a feeling (whether good or bad), describe and name it: “You’re so proud of your drawing!” or “You look sad since your friend went home. Are you lonely?”

#9 Cultivating a Positive and Inclusive Mindset

Teaching your child to value people of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities is a big part of fostering true compassion. Build an inclusive mindset by:

  • Challenging stereotypes – Encourage critical thinking and teach your child to question assumptions about others. For example, if your child says, “I don’t like boys. They’re always mean,” avoid laughing it off, shaming, or scolding. Instead, gently question their feelings and help them explore ideas about other people and the ways they are different and the same.
  • Celebrating differences – Emphasize the beauty of diversity by teaching your child about other cultures, lifestyles, and traditions. Kids’ non-fiction books about other people and places are an excellent starting point.

#10 Creating a Supportive and Loving Environment

Above all, you can lay the foundation for compassionate behavior by providing a caring and warm home environment. You can do this by:

  • Showing unconditional love – Express your love and affection for your child consistently and openly, especially at times of uncertainty or after correcting inappropriate behavior. Reassure them of their worth and importance every day—practicing daily affirmations together is a wonderful way to begin.
  • Building independence – Feeling confident and secure in their own skills will help your child find the courage to show compassion for others. Help them build self-confidence by providing opportunities to take responsibility and make choices at home.

Start a Lifelong Practice of Compassion the Slumberkins Way

Parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in teaching children how to show empathy through compassionate behavior. After all, you’re their first role model and their earliest, most powerful relationship. But you’re not alone in this challenging work. 

At Slumberkins, we’re a team of parents and caregivers who are working right alongside you to find the keys to raising caring and compassionate kids.

That’s what motivates us to create resources for caregivers, along with stories and toys that help kids practice vital emotional skills. From building connections and showing gratitude to learning mindfulness, we’re here to create a kinder world—starting with your child.


British Journal of Clinical Psychology. The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. 

Royal Society Open Science. Testing the bounds of compassion in young children.

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