HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

Teaching kids compassion

Show children the value of empathy by volunteering as a family, donating old toys, or trying any of these reader-tested solutions.

By GreatSchools Staff

We asked other parents to share their ideas for encouraging compassion and generosity. Here are some of their suggestions:

Ways to give

Donate the old

"After every season, I take my son into his room and we weed out all of the clothing and shoes that he has either grown out of or has in excess, and we fill a box for the needy. We then shift over into his toy area and sift through to 'make room' for birthday gifts or Santa's delivery. Sometimes he cries because it can be hard to give away things that carry memories," one mother explains. "But we always talk about the fact that not all kids have toys and clothes, and how lucky we are to have what we have."

Feed the hungry

"Every month, my children help me bake a casserole to drop off at the local homeless shelter," writes a mother of two in New Jersey. "They ask me questions about homelessness, and I try my best to explain why these people don't have what we have. When they help me carry the food to the shelter, I think it shows why we're doing this. It just feels right to feed the hungry."

Share the wealth

"Instead of presents we have decided to view the birthdays in our family as a gift to share our blessings with others. So we have a big party, invite all of our friends and ask them for a donation to our favorite charity. If you need an idea, go to your local library - they will help you find a charity that fits your family," advises one mother in Texas. "We give our boys a gift first thing in the morning, so they are not without presents on their birthday. And after the party, when we deliver the donations, they get to appreciate the joy of giving."

Write notes of compassion

"I have taught my grandchildren to appreciate an encouraging note from friends," says a grandma and guardian of two. "I will gather my friends to help us prepare 'goodie bags' for homeless people. These bags consists of an encouraging note, some fruit or candy, and sometimes a couple of dollars. We also provide a small pillow (made with love and care) and some of our old but lightly used blankets and outerwear (hats, sweaters, coats and scarves). Our children need to know the importance of sharing and caring, because it's not a guarantee that we will always be financially able to sustain our present lifestyle."

Comments from readers

"These are sound suggestions, and I'm happy that my children and grandchildren already utilize many of them. Another fun way we model sharing by example - is by having a wardrobe swap. We "girls" gather for a pot luck of hors d'oeuvres, beverages and clothing. The children play and join us in trying on clothes we've all brought to swap. What is not pounced upon, or tentatively taken (to be recycled at the next such party, if it doesn't delight), is bagged up and given to the Goodwill or organizations that provide professional clothing for women in need, who are trying to get back into the work force and need appropriate wardrobe for job interviews. To pass on these items, that we "loved" but were just taking up space, lightens our loads and our hearts! "
"You may need to know before you go what things agencies do accept. Some homeless shelters do not provide food for their clients, but do have beds and a warm place, with an unaffiliated food kitchen closeby. Some centers who do feed folks have rules on what they receive and because of health restrictions cannot accept prepared food, but take ingredients which can be prepared in their kitchens by staff and volunteers. Here in Anchorage our food kitchen's clients especially appreciate contributed game meats and fish, tastes of home. One live-in shelter in town does feed its residents and accepts home-prepared foods. They also accept partial containers of cleaning products. Many places here do accept new and used clothing, especially outerwear, hats, gloves, socks. Our Native hospital accepts clothing for patients and families who fly in from the villages and need clothing to wear at the time of their release. They also appreciate reading material and supplies for activities pat! ients and families can do while here in town. The bottom line is to know what is needed and what can be accepted. Teach our kids to give with joy and respect. "
"This is precisely why we removed our children from what widely considered a fine public school and placed them in a nearby private school. Public schools, as their administrators and teachers are wont to exclaim at the mere mention of manners, are not required to teach the Golden Rule. Unkind and inconsiderate parents beget unkind inconsiderate children and public schools are not in place to correct bad parenting. We find that the private school, besides not being obsessed with teaching to score well on standardized tests, incorporate the importance of kindness, compassion, understanding and inclusion into its already strong curriculum. The tuition payments are certainly challenging, but we're confident we'll never regret sacrificing in order to provide them with an educational experience that reinforces the ideals and virtues we try to teach at home. "
"After reading some of the other parents ideas about teaching our children the meaning of giving it makes me realize how wonder these people are. If it was not for so many of these people my children would not have a good Christmas this year. We had to sign up for an adopt a family program this year because we are struggling. I was only able to buy one gift for each of my two children, but because of the program they will be able to recieve several gifts instead of only one. So my family would like to say thank you very much for giving and have a wonderful Merry Christmas. A family in need"