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Carter Harkins

Chief Storyteller, Harkins Creative

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How Do We Teach Children Compassion and Empathy?

Joan proposes that if compassion is so good for us, why don't we teach it to our children? But how is this done? What are your ideas? What has worked in your experience?

  • Sep 3 2011: By example.
    • Sep 4 2011: That is the 1000$ answer! We as grown adults, must teach the younger generation compassion, empathy, all of the above!! We as parents, must teach our very own children the same!!! They learn from US!! I am not an expert on this. I am willing to bet, that these attributes are learned behaviours. If said baby, 2 year old, 5 year old, etc., etc., is not shown these human qualities, then how could they ever display them? If you ask me, that is kinda the problem (one of the problems) in this world. It rests on the shoulders of the adults and the parents. Just sayin'!!
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        Sep 4 2011: Tishe,
        Did you watch the video Ehis provided? It's interesting, and suggests that we are already naturally "wired" for compassion/empathy, and I agree with this. Children come into our world open, honest, trusting, and loving...they are compassionate when they arrive. Because of some kids' very challenging life experiences, they learn behaviors which over ride compassion/empathy. We need to nurture the children so they can continue to recognize compassion/empathy, in themselves:>) You are absolutely right...we have the opportunity to show kids something different in each and every moment:>)
        • Sep 6 2011: Hi Colleen,
          forgive me, I am new to the forum! (I love it!) I did not see a link to a video?? I would love to watch it!! I babysit for a living and always open to help! p.s., it is the greatest job in the world!! Thank you!!
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        Sep 6 2011: Hi Tishe,
        Welcome to TED:>)

        Ehis Odijie provided this link to an interesting video in his comment below:>)

        • Sep 6 2011: Thank You Colleen!
          I watched, thanks for the link! I must say, I took quite a few notes! I will go back and watch it again! (It went a little too fast for me) So,,, it it is the parents and the teachers and the humans we interact with every day. It must start with our babies. What I am concerned with, it is too late. It is a very horrible world that a lot of humans are BORN into. These little humans do not stand a chance in hell. In the mean time, other humans that are trying to do good, are called rebels?? (lack of a better word?) this is not rocket science. The closest answer to this is evolution. (maybe a god decided to do this to us) Humans will only survive with love and touch ( nice touch) and feelings for compassion. We as humans are lost. We as humans, may as well kiss our collective asses bye-bye. We as human, no longer have the balls to fight for the decent right! To stand up and say, "no more". On the up side, I will continue to baby sit and teach compassion for all that respect life. THIS LIFE. Cuz, that is all we have. Oh, p.s., tell that to the morons in d.c., and the other political figures in the world. Thank you, I will stop rambling.
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        Sep 6 2011: Tishe,
        The video does move along rather fast, and there is a lot of information provided:>) In my humble perception, it is never too late for us to pay attention:>)

        LOL...it's ok to ramble a little! That is sometimes how we find our own truth...writing about the thoughts and feelings that are rambling around in our heart and mind:>) Each and every one of us has an opportunity to be compassionate in each moment...either with ourselves and/or with all those we interact with. I probably won't be giving this message to many politicians today, but you never know...TED is growing!!! :>)
        • Sep 7 2011: If you have the power to give this to a political figure, that would actually listen, then please do it! Thank you for the link again! I did watch it again! I do ramble, I am very passionate about children and their need for a human that gives a crap! (excuse my language) With respect to you! :)
      • Sep 6 2011: tishe, I have seen the same, harsh environments for kids to grow up in. Unloving, even abusive parents. Inconsistent love/punishment. These kids may not always become the same way, perhaps they are loved by another relative or find a great counselor at school. We are all "programmed" differently. Some make it, some falter and learn lessons the hard way. Or not at all. And we are not "lost", to each his own belief, but that is extreme. And maybe one of those sad kids needs to hear that very thing, we are NOT lost, and we do have faith in humanity.
        • Sep 7 2011: I agree with you so much! Children need something, someone, that shows them! There are children that have overcome the worst! However they always contribute their life to another human?? This is a very interesting topic! It is a very priority topic! For the record, there are countless of abusive parents out there! There are countless of abusive humans out there! I have learned the hard way. Abusive humans are idiots. The humans that look the other way are far worse! With respect to you and thank you!! :)
  • Sep 2 2011: Children learn from the examples given by the lives of their parents. To teach children compassion the parents must be living examples of compassion.
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        Sep 13 2011: I like your comment Mark and I am trying to do so. But they still have to see social environment acting in this way. Once there is in universal concern about our future generation, children will be able to absorb better Compassion and Empathy.
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    Sep 7 2011: I would actually take this in a slightly different direction. As the posts here demonstrate, we do a great deal to teach children compassion and empathy. The real question is, how do we teach it to adults? I notice with many adults (not all, of course) that they become less understanding and more hardened to people with whom they disagree or have little in common.

    Most children (with just a few exceptions) are born with tremendous compassion. After years of watching us bicker over meaningless details or scream over each other because of a difference in ideas, is it any wonder they start to emulate it (and then need a class to correct it)?
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      Sep 7 2011: Excellent new direction, Amy! I'll give thought...
    • Sep 8 2011: I still favour some ideas around emotional intelligence as a menas of helping people retain the framework that many have when young. Also the idea of linking this to emotional awareness with the development of understanding of being able to read and consider the emotions of others. One area that can help this which I am involved in is the development of the ability to identify indicators of seven core emotions in others througth the work of Paul Ekman.
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        Sep 8 2011: Ekman's work is something that should interest most of us who are interested in understanding human emotion and cognition better, Duncan. Good point.
        Emotional intelligence though, is often connected to neurological endowments.
        It seems to me that as adults we usually grow in compassion when we have become sensitized to other people's previously unnoticed pain by experiencing such a painful situation ourselves. The rich are sensitized to the poor by experiencing poverty or lack, the callous become more sensitive after experiencing vulnerability and or shame. This often comes in the form of traumatic events that destroy a previously strongly held schema about how the world 'works'.
        • Sep 8 2011: I understand where you are coming from with this Amy, but I would be less certain about some aspects. I would believre that SOME of the rich MAY be sensitized to the poor, but there is still the cushion that they can always walk away for the poverty they see and they may only experience iot on a superficial level? Possibly I'm being less than generous? From an emotional intelligence standpoint, by utilising some aspects of NLP you could help learners to experience the feelings of others and therefore help them develo a deeper awareness of compassion ?Just a few thoughts...
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      Sep 8 2011: Good point Amy.
      I believe the best way to teach anything to anyone, is by modeling the behavior we wish to focus on. I agree with you that children are born with compassion, so perhaps we need to start watching, listening to and interacting with children more often with the idea of learning more about compassion?

      It is no wonder at all, that we are discouraging compassion with many of our behaviors, and as you say, adults often bicker over meaningless differences.

      I've learned that the differences are the gifts we give each other. It is with the differences that we learn that we are each individuals with different backgrounds, making different choices on our life journey. The problems arise when we think/feel we "should" be all the same, with the exact same beliefs, interests, etc.
      Some people feel they are so "right" in their beliefs and behaviors, they cannot see the gifts they might recieve by opening the heart and mind to different people and different information.

      I would never deny myself the gift of being open hearted and open minded to others...it is a gift I give myself. To be open minded/open hearted and compassionate with others, offers the opportunity to learn/grow in ourselves, as well as learn about others in a way we cannot do when we are busy being argumentative.
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        Sep 8 2011: SO very true, Colleen. I often tell others that I seldom say no to a new opportunity not because I'm so generous with my time, but because it's an amazing gift I don't want to deny myself. Every new experience has the potential to lead us to places we don't expect. Being open doesn't mean I necessarily agree with others, but at least I understand their position a bit better. I also think you're on to something with the value of spending time with children. I've taught middle grades through college and supervise student teachers at the early childhood level. Every time I'm out in the field I get a charge from being around these energetic souls. Gives me a better idea why my first grade teacher was still plugging away at 92 :)
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          Sep 8 2011: YES...YES...YES Amy! It is an amazing gift to ourselves:>)

          I agree...being open doesn't mean accepting all information as our truth. It means listening to, and really hearing other perspectives. I've been told many times that I am "lucky" my life is so interesting! It is INTERESTING because I am INTERESTED! My life has been what it is because I've been willing to say YES to opportunities that present to me, and I firmly believe I'm on this earth school to learn, so I move toward learning!

          You are so absolutely right..."Every new experience has the potential to lead us to places we don't expect"......IF..........we suspend expectations and are open to possibilities!!!

          Sometimes, when I felt challenged with my children, I would say to them..."I've never been a mother before, so please help me with this situation"! We can learn so much when we open our heart and mind to them:>)

          I am SO GLAD you are in our educational system!!! Thank you for that Amy:>)
    • Sep 8 2011: I think if we want to have a more compassionate and empathetic society, we have to display those characteristics ourselves. Consequently, it's less about teaching others but more about being aware that others are constantly learning from us.

      Even adults, though much of their behavior is already formed, mold to their surroundings. With hostile people, we become guarded or hostile as well. With reactionary people, we become reactionary. With empathetic people, we allow ourselves to open up and empathize. In other words, the best way "teach" people what we believe is the best way to behave, we must be constantly aware that everyone around us is affected by our behavior and in turn, learning from it.
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    Sep 2 2011: I think that children learn to be compassionate and empathetic by witnessing it in action. In places and among people where these qualities are truly valued, they are modelled and emulated.
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      Sep 4 2011: Good point Mark and Sir Ken!
      "We shouldn't be putting them asleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves".
      In order to help wake up others, we need to be awake in ourselves, and that is where it begins for each and every one of us:>)
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        Sep 4 2011: There are some head, heart and hands schools.
        Their teacher goes through the whole education with them (as in stays with the same class) and forms a teacher student bond. +1 compassion.
        Another form of education, some say it works.

        I come from a private grammar school and can't remember anything i memorized from there.
        I mostly remember peak experiences from classmates and the relationships ive had.

        I was woken up at my first job and taught to watch myself.
        Then moved on to books that give me wisdom.

        One point of view is we're being fed knowledge but not wisdom.
        and what good is understanding something if you can't apply or use it.
        I think thats the main difference between head, heart and hands education and other normal education.

        Another view of mine is,
        there was a head heart and hands school near my old school and we used to ridicule them for wearing whatever they liked and choosing what they'd like to study.

        while i was in uniform with a blazer being stressed out in tests.
        oh and i dropped out at year 11 ;) love that video so much.
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          Sep 4 2011: I also memorized a lot of "stuff" in school Benny, for the sake of getting through the process:>)

          You write..."One point of view is we're being fed knowledge but not wisdom".
          I agree with that, and it reminds me of a quote that I think is so true from "The Science of Mind" by Ernest Holmes.
          "One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice".

          We have a lot of information available to us regarding how to be more compassionate, empathic, kind, respectful human beings. You are absolutely right..."what good is understanding something if you can't apply or use it"? It's time to start putting it in practice as a whole, human, living organism:>)
        • Sep 4 2011: It is all knowledge, until we feel the full effects of it. When we ourselves experience it, it becomes wisdom. If someone speaks with wisdom, it is because they have experienced, not that they simply know.

          I think that we probably need to not only feed knowledge to children, but to allow them to be in, or even put them into, situations where the effects of their actions can be observed and felt. Words are easily forgotten, but what we feel we remember, and if we feel it, it is true. Perhaps what we call 'protecting' them is really preventing them from feeling and learning more valuable life lessons than we can ever realise – in a sense we deny them rite of passage, by placing all our milestones in education.

          Some other cultures address it in ways we in the west can't understand. In Central Africa, the Iboga ceremony is one such rite. Various things are learned from the experience, but one is that you experience all of your actions, everything you have ever done, from the perspective of those involved. This destruction of the ego is what brings purpose to compassion, strengthens friend and family units. We in the west seem happier to pit our children in competition with eachother (our education system) and reinforce this ego, while valuing those that know/earn/have the most above all else.
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        Sep 4 2011: While i think i could understand your point of view im not sure im bold enough to say the whole human race isn't already demonstrating compassion and empathy. I see a mother and a baby and i see compassion, i see a psycologist and i see empathy.

        I see we are at war and i see nonviolence videos.

        thats about as far as my perception reaches at this point lol.
        I never ment to be absoloutly right but i love that you agree with some of my perspective.
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          Sep 4 2011: Benny,
          Many people ARE demonstrating compassion...I want more!!! LOL :>)

          Your perception reaches FAR my friend. I LOVE to agree. That is how we connect with each other compassionately...finding similarities...points of agreement...I LOVE IT!!!
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    Sep 23 2011: Compassion and empathy can not be taught. It can only be learned.

    The best way for children to learn it, is to witness it in the adults around them. You teach children how to interact with others, but being compassionate and empathetic yourself, in your own interactions with others. Getting angry at customer service, road rage, insulting people for having different beliefs (political or religious), and a huge list of others, leaves children with the wrong impression, and they learn to be selfish and greedy.
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    Sep 13 2011: One of the major reason for lack of compassion and empathy in people is prejudice. People tend to judge others from where they are coming from. If you observe, for most of us it is easier to be compassionate towards and empathize with people of your own culture, religion or country. Compassion and empathy comes from understanding humans. The best way to teach children is expose them to different cultures. This has definitely worked for me in my childhood. Living in a multicultural city like Mumbai I have had Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist friends. Knowing such people right from my childhood has helped me to develop an understanding of each culture. It has developed a deep respect towards all of their respective customs. This way when I come across a stranger I never see their religion or country. I see them as just another person. I think this way I have overcome the biggest barrier in human connection. This has helped me to bond with people when I lived in the US as well. And I believe this is the first barrier that our children need to overcome, or actually they should never be introduced to this barrier. So my advice would be to expose your children to as many cultures as possible and help them understand the humans behind them. Sit with them and explain them why they have a particular custom, etc. Once we all start looking towards each other as "just another person" compassion and empathy will easily follow.
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        Sep 14 2011: Yes, an important addition/correction to what I said above. Make sure you children are aware of such barriers but not imbibe them in themselves. Thank you Mr. Meijer.
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    Sep 9 2011: By example.
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    Sep 8 2011: When my twins were 7 years old and my eldest was 14, i took them to visit the largest Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. The name of the camp was/is Jalozai.

    As soon as I drove in, a swarm of kids gathered around the car......One of the twins had a a toy car in his hand.

    As soon as we got out of the car, refugee kids clustered around my twin with the car. I did see a moment of bewilderment in the eyes of my son with the car. I did not say anything except held his other hand.

    After about 15 sec, he reached out and handed his car to one of the kids with a huge smile!

    He is now 17 and high school senior.....When we talk about that close encounter.....he smiles at the thought of giving without any hesitation.

    Since then my kids have never requested $150 basketball sneakers! :)
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      Sep 8 2011: Dear Shahid,
      That is a truly beautiful story that brings tears of joy and appreciation to my eyes. I am grateful for you and your children in our world:>)
      Peace and love to you and your family.
  • Sep 8 2011: Hi All, I'm coming late to this conversation, and I have to admit to not having read the whole thread... nonetheless, here are my comments:
    - Though all children are born with compassion and empathy, some are born with more than others. I have two boys who demonstrate clearly the yin and yang of humankind - one rarely thinks of himself first, is kind and gentle and constantly questioning how others feel, the other is rough, bites, punches and kicks (he's 3) and is clearly somewhere else along the spectrum.
    - My view is informed somewhat by NLP (which has been very useful to me). There are two things in particular from this field which I think could be very helpful in the teaching of compassion - the first is the view that "every act has a positive intention", so when looking at other people and their actions, however awful they might seem, teaching kids to look beyond the immediate act can often give them an insight they won't get otherwise. The second and related principle is that of taking the 2nd person i.e. putting yourself in the place of the other person as far as you can.
    - For me teaching compassion and empathy goes hand in hand with a teaching of basic ethics.... in fact I'd go as far as to say we should be teaching philosophy from primary age onwards (kids are largely not being taught to think at all but to regurgitate information which is generally much less useful). By exploring the rights and wrongs of situations you promote thinking about things from all angles.
    - Modelling is vital.
    - It's most important to teach these skills to the bottom percentiles of society (on whatever metric you measure this) because these kids are the most at risk of sliding into a downward spiral of antisocial behaviour.
    - We have had rioting across the country in the UK recently. As a society we are questioning what we can do to change the situation of discontent and irresponsibility. We each should be ask what can I do to make a difference? F
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      Sep 8 2011: I agree Fiona, that to "look beyond the immediate act" can be helpful to understanding.

      I had an unconditionally loving mother and a violent abusive father. She always used to say..."love the man...hate the behavior...he doesn't know how to love or be loved". When considering his background and history as a child, it wasn't difficult to understand why he behaved as he did. When volunteering with offenders in correctional facilities, looking at their files, it was not difficult to understand why they behaved as they did...sexually assaulted by family members from two years of age for example. What we have experienced in life does not have to determine our actions and reactions throughout our entire life, nor does it justify inappropriate behaviors. But, until people learn something different, they may continue to repeat the same patterns. As you say Fiona, we need to "give them an insight they won't get otherwise".

      I agree that compassion and empathy go hand in hand, and I also agree that many people, from the time they are children, are not learning how to make good choices for themselves, but rather "regurgitating information which is generally much less useful"...very well said!
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    Sep 7 2011: 1) Never discourage your child's sensitivity
    ‎2) Let the child know about the effect of their actions on you
    3) demonstrate and discuss empathy in the home on a daily basis
    4) help your child identify and acknowledge all feeling states
    5) limit exposure to coarsening influences such as media
    6) have at least one pet in the house
    7) ask your child about their feelings
    8) ask your child about how they make others feel by their actions both positive and negative.
    Empathy and compassion are natural for all children except brain damaged ones. We don't have to teach it. We just have to refrain from killing it.
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    Sep 2 2011: In our study (www.dramanetwork.eu) we found that in general theatre classes (including different forms of interactive theatre performances and all kind of drama-games can really improve empathy scores. (we tested around 4500 kids). I expect to be able later to be more specific in what kinds of theatre classes empathy is most effectively thaught, at the moment we are still looking for funding to finance the analysis of the huge database we have.
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      Sep 2 2011: I'm a drama teacher and agree totally with your findings! Virtually every theatre game a group plays has the potential to teach empathy. It largely depends on the teacher to promote the larger lesson of empathy while at the same time building acting skills.
    • Sep 3 2011: I agree. Arts and music should be core courses. If you are running short on budget headroom, cut sports, we're choking on that stuff now as it is.
      If you can't do arts or music you can always be a jock and then later a greeter at walmart, or if you are smart, an astrophysist. Neigher of those occupations require empathy.
  • Sep 18 2011: Re Teaching compassion

    Yes we can teach compassion to a point but if we want to really instill compassion in the child's life,we need to understand that compassion is a learned behavior beginning already in the womb. If we are serious to help a child develop empathy and compassion we must begin before the conception of the child. As Alice Miller tells us “...electronic testing of the fetus has revealed a fact previously unknown to most adults: a child responds to and learns tenderness and cruelty from the very beginning.” The drama of Being a Child p 169.

    This is much too complex a subject to get into in a couple of paragraphs.

    Healthy self-esteem and a good solid sense of self is essential for both parents before conception takes place so that both at a conscious and subconscious level the pregnancy is wanted. This is central so that bonding with the unborn child begins as it were immediately upon conception. This bonding process needs to continue throughout the pregnancy as the mother assures the unborn child that it's wanted and loved and is reaffirmed and built upon throughout the child's early life.

    Love is a learned behavior out of which bonding takes place beginning in the womb through which empathy and compassion develop and out of which develops conscience. We cannot give something to our children that we do not have ourselves. A good resource in this area is High Risk Children Without A Conscience by Dr. Ken Magid and Carole A. McKelvey
  • Sep 12 2011: The following are the old instructions from the Visuddhimagga which seem to have worked for millions of people -

    Remaining calm and reasonable, form a mental image of yourself.
    Think about how this person, with all their thoughts and all their actions, strives to attain happiness and enjoyable states of mind, and to avoid pain and suffering.
    Consider the fact that this is a valid desire.
    Think "How nice it would be for this person to really attain lasting happiness!" Spend a few moments with the feeling that brings.
    Wish "May this person attain lasting happiness!" Spend a few moments with the feeling that brings.
    Declare "I will work to help this person attain lasting happiness!" Spend a few moments with the feeling that brings.
    Next, repeat this process, considering a friend in place of yourself...
    then a stranger...
    then an enemy, someone who has treated you harshly, or someone you have bad feelings towards...
    then all four together (yourself, the friend, the stranger and the enemy)...
    then all beings in the universe that have minds - all men, women, children, animals, insects, aliens, beings in other dimensions.
    Dwell in the final feeling.
    Repeat as often as possible.
  • Sep 10 2011: You teach children compassion and empathy by showing compassion and empathy toward them as they grow up......It is what you do, more than what you say.
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    Sep 5 2011: The best way to teach children all of values and the correct model behavior is to be a model yourself. When you tell them to do only good things but behave and live another life be sure your children will learn the best of what you do worst. that's why always remember - if you want to change the world first change yourself!
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      Sep 5 2011: AMEN !!!
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        Sep 7 2011: What to do when they find other model to copy? What tools do help us to teach ?
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          Sep 7 2011: Stella....If you have lain a good foundation for your relationship with the child it is easier because the child trusts you and will adhere to your values. The first five years are crucial. That is the window of opportunity to imprint compassionate values. When this foundation is not laid, then it is more difficult to be a model because of trust issues and the fact that youth will test the waters.
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          Sep 7 2011: @ Stella, Hi!
          I recently watched a number of movies that were created in the 1930s by several directors. I was amazed to see the compassionate and caring morality within them. I was also impressed to realize that perhaps much of my sense of the 'rightness' of this way of life was reinforced by my childhood exposure to these movies which had been rerun on television on rainy Saturday afternoons.

          The current generations of movie goers have not had this type of exposure. Rather, many people since then have been exposed to a steadily more cynical diet of mass media which does not advocate compassion and empathy or helping a fellow human being but which extols self interest.
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        Sep 13 2011: Thank you Mark, Helen and Debra for so wide answers. In my intention to raise thinking members of our society. I am raising the problem that we have to combine our forcers in many ways. Like Debra sad through media. Do any school has this classes or such programs? And of course our own life experience that they are witnesses for. African people help runs in my daughter's school "Donate - Help". I think we are destroying them this way, but she is saying everyone doing it. I am asking her why it is not bother her her friend felt near her, her answer: "I do not care." Why everybody act so, and she likes when i take pity in time she wound herself. ....?
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      Sep 13 2011: so... more Homeschooling then. ;)
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    Sep 5 2011: teach them that they are already compassionate and empathetic. people tend to see in themselves what we see in them.
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    Oct 1 2011: At one point in this conversation there was lots of push-back regarding "teaching" compassion/empathy and whether or not "teaching" children something in the traditional classroom sense was effective or even appropriate.

    In conversations on subjects such as teaching and education it is inevitable that this perspective is expressed. "Let them seek out their own lessons" becomes the "liberated" way of educating. The question is, what more can we do?

    There are many places for teaching and learning to take place. One is the classroom (but now that is under review, and for good reason), but no one place is more important than another. Learning happens continually and everywhere. Children can benefit enormously from good teachers and one of them just might be someone whom you would least expect. To paraphrase, teaching a child indeed takes a village.

    Here is a small example:
    In school children are taught that Gandhi changed the world through his teachings and his exemplary way of living life and treating fellow human beings. The students "learn" this fact, but likely don't fully understand or appreciate how and why it relates to their lives as children. In short, it goes in one ear and out the other. (I'll stop right here and say that a good teacher would not simply transmit this lesson to the child, but also find ways to relate the lesson to a child's personal experiences. Teachers must use whatever they can - art, music, storytelling, multimedia, modeling, role playing - as tools to help make the learning of the lesson more impressive, more real. I would also note that Gandhi is a perfect stepping off point for beginning to teach children compassion and empathy).
    The important point I want to make is that in the process of a classroom lesson going "in one ear and out the other" a seed is left behind. How that seed grows depends on the child's interest, the parents, and everyone else in the village. Welcome to the future of education.
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    Oct 1 2011: It's Simple It can be done by their parents doing those qualities. the most effective teaching it most done by the parents.
  • Sep 21 2011: hmmm, it seems most agree that 'modeling it' is the correct way to teach compassion and empathy. If this is true then the initial step would be to turn the televisions off.
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      Sep 21 2011: Mike that is actually a very cogent point. Bandura, a famous psychologist demonstrated years ago that children to not actually learn human behaviours as well from television as from seeing it modelled especially if it is modelled by another child just ahead of them in stage of development.
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      Sep 29 2011: Polls and studies show that most children in US spend 3 hs or more in front of the TV, and only 30 to 45 minutes fully involved with their parents (e.g. at the dinner table) Additional time is spent with video games. The level of violence (verbal and physical), short attention span, ADHD diagnosis displayed by children reflects on that and clearly says who and what is influencing them. It is no longer mom and/or dad. If you add the fact that the average age of the video game player in US is 37 (yes, thirty seven), you will discover what a lot of adults (many of them parents) choose to do with their off-work time -NOT spending quality time with their kiddos! social skills are mostly gone, and the level of aggression is huge.Those are the numbers, and i have the experience: I see it in the classrooms, the grocery store, the park...
  • Sep 8 2011: I think there are two main ways to accomplish this goal. First, we teach them by showing them. They learn how to react by watching how those around them react in situations. I think it's also important to note that parents are not the only people who show children how to behave. I can remember a few brief encounters with people as a child changed my perception of things. In other words, anyone, not just parents, can show children how to be compassionate and empathize, even when they aren't aware that they're doing it.

    Second, we teach them by having them examine the reasons behind other people's actions. For example, rather than simply telling them not to be upset when someone hurts them, we also try to figure out why that person was mean to them. Similarly, when they are mean to someone else, we encourage them find out how their actions affected the other person. I think that more you ask "why" and the more you understand the foundations of other people's actions, the easier it is to empathize with them and feel compassion and more the difficult it is to condemn and praise blindly.
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    Sep 7 2011: Grandparents and pets. Children (at different ages) respond well to being needed. When a child discovers that people and animals (pets) benefit and need their kindness and compassion, they experience compassion first hand. Provide a child the opportunities to ACT compassionately and they will respond naturally and understand their worth. Ask a child to help an elderly neighbor, or grandparent and you will see a proud child respond to the needs of that person and the community. A bit of coaching may help (not too much, they already know compassion intuitively). Other examples... Elderly care giving, reading to elderly, reading to pets, humane society, keeping own pets. We all need to be needed and valued.

    I now this seems simplistic. Why make it more complicated than it is?
  • Sep 7 2011: Would like to call your attention again to Roots of Empathy, mentioned by someone else in the discussion. This is an extraordinary project that brings babies and their parents into the classroom - awakening compassion and knowledge, working directly with the "soft spot" we all feel in the presence of the freshness of a baby's life. Such tender possibility. The program is proving itself to be transformative, and there is lots of room for it to spread. There is a very successful US pilot program in Seattle, that began with the Seeds of Compassion initiative in 2008. For more info on Roots of Empathy, see their web site: www.rootsofempathy.org
    We talk so much about compassion - and it is a wonderful discussion. But this is something we can actually DO, right now, and I'd like to encourage people to engage with it. Time's a-wasting!
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    Sep 7 2011: Yes, you are right, Ian: To be an example is the best way. But what to do in case that everybody behave in modern world otherwise and even you like a parent give them advise they think you are the odd one out. Problem that they copy not adults, but older kids and this like chain reaction. Explanation does not work, only the own experience. Maybe education system has to provide not only the Knowledge, but this basics of human common living as well. Together we will be more powerful in this.
    "Nature’s condition is invariable. We have reached the phase of the single system, whose law is the interconnection of all the parts. This is the mutual guarantee, or in other words, mutual support, the proper participation in the common life, mutual understanding and respect, friendship." from - "Whoever-is-integral-will-come-out-on-top" Dr. Laitman.
    It likes "team work" only global. We all depend on each individual and to start with myself.
    • Sep 7 2011: I agree with what you have said, Stella and Ian. However, Children (and grown-ups) learn from their total environment, their teachers, parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, peers, older kids, people they meet and TV, not only the programmes, but the advertisements, ALL advertisements, which need to have better guidelines. The internet now has a significant effect on children and it provides connections for children (and grown-ups) to anywhere in the world, so that in this way, the whole world is becoming their environment.
      Stella, I particularly liked the concept you put forth on a natural interconnection between people – like a mutual guarantee – “I’ll help you, if you need it, and I know you will help me, if I need it”. This is proper compassion, and we need more of it. In nature we see harmonious relationships sometimes between very unlikely creatures, which have a mutual benefit for each other,
      Since the whole world is quickly becoming interconnected, to properly educate children (and grown-ups) we really need a world wide discussion of as many groups of people (and children) as possible. The task being to formulate a world-wide solution for how we can best educate our children, so that they feel this “mutual guarantee” of compassion and how the best environment to do it in, can best be provided for them.
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        Sep 7 2011: Like a mum I think first something wrong with me and my upbringing is imperfect, but I face frequently that my tools not so effective, like ALL environmental pressure. Deep question "How do we teach..?" is showing us how we really need supported community GLOBALLY.
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    • Sep 5 2011: Birdia,

      I'll start off with this quote: "We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit." -Robert H. Shaffer

      The idea of education is to empower children, to ignite their lights and show them that while interests are fantastic, some of them may be, in fact, fantasy. While I do not doubt the power of fantasy, I believe that reality is our ultimate blessing. Therein lies the sparks for children. I agree with you. Children don't sit around waiting to be taught something. This is because we can't view them in that way. Teaching is empowerment, motivation, not fact-filling. Adults can be taught (empowerment) and children can be taught (empowerment). When has age ever changed the capacity for knowledge?

      The reason for a curriculum is to show our children the knowledge they need to know to make change in this world. Or to do whatever it is they want to do. Compassion and empathy is just another one of these things. If we empower these kids in compassion and empower them in empathy, their possibilities can become infinite. Who wouldn't want children compassionate and empathetic.

      These are not boring 'adult' ideas that operate in the 'adult' world and are useless to children. They can use compassion and empathy every day. This is what I believe in nonetheless.

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      Sep 6 2011: Birdia,
      Judging from your comments, it seems likely that you are not a parent yourself, because if you were, you would not likely have said the things you did. As parents, we DO teach our children things every day! And if we are good at parenting, we know how to make learning fun and interesting for them. But regardless of whether learning those lessons are 'fun and interesting' or not, or whether they are 'interested' in particular lessons or not, it is still our DUTY as their parents to teach them certain things! And as far as your comment, "The act of 'Teaching' is fun for the adults but it is probably not the best method to encourage children to learn anything" goes, there are countless 'methods' of teaching, and the good ones DO encourage children to learn and DO make learning interesting and fun. And furthermore, I hardly think that teaching children about compassion and empathy is 'selfish and inconsiderate' just because 'we adults' want to instill those virtues in our children. They will be better citizens because of those lessons learned, and very likely will appreciate the fact that their parents cared enough about them to teach them about those things!
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          Sep 25 2011: You are fortunate and, more importantly, generous.
          Your FYI fulfilled a statement I published: "My parents were great, lower-middle class Americans and I am grateful. However, I wish they had merely practiced their goodness and not indoctrinated me in Southern Baptist interpretation of the Bible.” Since then my wish would exclude any religion.
          Then you write: "To be honest, I can . . . “, followed by "it's simply maddening." Your writing is lucid.
          I have a request: I am concerned that some contributors equivocate “empathy” with “compassion” and ignore “intolerance.” Please comment on the elements of this compound statement: "Adults should be intolerant toward force in all its forms and make certain their own actions are empathetic, reserving compassion for people who need help to establish personal independence. With such leadership, children could discover personal preferences during their lives.”
    • Sep 6 2011: How can compassion be considered as a grown-up's selfish value to be passed on? Did you not watch the video? Whether you do have children or not, please read what others are writing, about learning by example. Also, sometimes it is a small talk, a good opportunity to teach and help arises perhaps, like when a child hurts another one, unjustly, in front of you; this is a perfect time to help your child to process what was observed, and to listen, it isn't selfish at all. It is preparing them for our world, and they ARE our future. Peace.
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        • Sep 18 2011: Birdie you are so right on but most people donot understand your depth.
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      Sep 7 2011: Birdia,

      While it's true to that children tend to resist being told, there is good evidence that children learn even when they don't think they are or are actively seeking lessons. Research on adult learning suggests they are even more resistant than children to learning (many adults feel they know all and/or are experts) and, in fact, that ability to learn or not is less a factor than motivation.

      Curiosity is a gift children have -- which your family seems to value more than some -- that some adults don't, which gives them an edge, learning-wise.

      There is also good evidence that empathy is biologically natural. Research on children indicates they will instinctively show concern and/or comfort for another if they are aware they are in pain. Notably, this reaction seems more evident in one-on-one or small group settings, not bigger groups.

      In community, social contagion factors kick in, which explains why in many cases, neither children or adults will intervene with bullies -- even if they internally wish they could or would.

      It seems culture can and often does dilute this instinct out of the cognitive reaction realms, though it remains in sub-conscious. Why, in reflection people might have empathy for another, but in the moment don't sense others pain as clearly as children do. In other words, we learn to dull our senses to one another. In part because feeling their pain, fear, or reality can trigger our feelings of the same.

      Children have fewer filters--and are "closer" to their sense of vulnerability, which can allow them to access "purer" feelings, including empathy. And, I think childhood is a wonderful time to "allow" children to act with compassion.

      One wishes we adults would similarly "allow" ourselves to empathize with our vulnerabilities, so we, too could act with more compassion.

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      Sep 29 2011: Birdia, you are so right! When I read the question I found the part of "teaching" troublesome. "Instill", "encourage", "expose them to" are better choices of words.
      But let's not judge, we are all learning to free ourselves of old boundaries; most of us did not have the privilege of growing up in a perfectly evolved, forward thinking, always right family. Again, we are learning, specially learning to shake off the stigmas that the "educational" years left on us. Including our choice of words :-)
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    Sep 4 2011: Watch this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
    I think a better question would be ' how do we learn Compassion and Empathy? Compassion is an emotion that is a sense of ‘shared suffering’, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Compassion essentially arises through empathy, and is often characterized through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for.

    If you cannot identify a common ground with someone there is no genuine compassion trust me. It is human nature. Muslims feel concern for Muslims (common religion) Christians too. People of the same ethnicity –same ideology . . the list goes on. Even people of same colour.

    You cannot teach someone sincere compassion - unless you tell them a different story.
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      Sep 4 2011: Ehis,
      "You cannot teach someone sincere compassion - unless you tell them a different story"...and we cannot tell "them" a different story unless we are living the story we want to tell.

      The common ground is that we all love and want to be loved...we are all sad and joyful at times...frightened and strong at times...we all feel many of the same emotions, and are the same in that respect. We need to recognize that we are all connected in this way:>)

      Edit next day:
      Had time to look at the video...that's good:>) We can be empathic and connected to one another and still retain individual beliefs, when we are willing to accept each other with respect. We need to recognize the similarities, and look at the differences as an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve as human beings...together:>)
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        Sep 5 2011: Thanks Collen. I agree with you that we need to look more at - and emphasis- ‘the similarities'. The obvious connection is that we are all humans - there are different types of animals out there and we all fall into the category of a specific type - just like antelope move along. Lions, tiger all move along.
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        Sep 6 2011: Well said, Colleen...accept each other with respect/recognize the similarities/ and look at differences as an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve as human beings...that just about covers it, I think.
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      Sep 4 2011: Love this vid
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    Sep 3 2011: From my experience there seem to be few examples of compassion and empathy in advertising, music, movies, TV, or video games geared toward children. Having discussions with our children about the real-life effects of living without empathy and compassion when they are exposed to these messages can help to expand the vision of reality that is presented to them through mass media. Supporting this through example as noted by others is an important follow-up.
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    Sep 2 2011: And I would add to Debra's thoughts that when a society as a whole holds empathy and compassion as a valuable, desirable trait, then it's people have an easier time acting and modeling that behavior to children and each other (is it a behavior?). To quote an African proverb: "it takes a village".
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    Sep 2 2011: At Kids Are Heroes, we teach kids compassion, empathy and also leadership skills -- this is our bread and butter. By showcasing kids who give back with no consideration of their own benefit, other kids realize that they too can have an impact. By completing a philanthropic task, kids not only learn the values of perseverance and compassion, but their confidence is boosted as well. They also learn very quickly that they are not the center of the universe. See more at kidsareheroes.org.
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    Sep 2 2011: Good thoughts. This TED Talk by Sam Richards http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy.html talks about ways in which students are being taught empathy by a guided visualization process, which helps to suspend our own judgements and beliefs long enough to step into someone else's shoes. The amazing thing is the cumulative effect this has on the brain. It seems that once students have gone through this rigorous process a few times, their brains seem wired differently. They seem to be able to empathize much more easily in new circumstances. This may hold a key to understanding ways in which to teach children active compassion. Engaging each other with stories about our lives helps to captivate others' attention to communicate deeper and more enduring ideas. It may be that stories could be specifically designed to teach compassion and empathy, perhaps?
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      Sep 7 2011: Hi Carter! I loved this video too but believe me it stirred a huge controversy here on TED conversations. Sam even joined us for the discussion and many who lacked more than compassion attacked him and his views. It was interesting to read as it transpired but Sam Richards stayed true to form and discussed the issues with even the most obnoxious attacker with great self discipline and empathy.
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        Sep 7 2011: I remember! I audited that conversation, but never weighed in. He really emphasized his point when he remained so centered and respectful, and yes, empathic!