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:>)'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 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 ( 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:
    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 -
    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
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    Sep 2 2011: Good thoughts. This TED Talk by Sam Richards 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!
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    Oct 1 2011: We cant teach them these qualities. But we can provide the environment for them to imbibe them. Exposing them to literature, movies and pieces of art is one way. We definitely need to be the examples ourselves in the lives.

    In fact, We need to teach each other sympathy and compassion not just to children alone.
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    Oct 1 2011: I would submit that the value of observational learning is orders of magnitude greater than simple instructional learning. Children will model the behavior first of their families, then the close surrounding community. Some of us do (did) attempt to teach this as our children were growing, with the lessons observed or participated in - readily recalled as young adults.
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    Sep 29 2011: BE AN EXAMPLE ! " Children learn through "modeling". They are ALWAYS watching you. Invariably... they will do as you do... not as you say. Arm and empower yourself and you'll be able to do the same for your children" .then talk to them about your experiences, what you think, and how you feel about compassion and empathy.
    and ofcourse be aware of what they watch in tv, friends etc..
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    Sep 26 2011: One scientifically proven way would be to teach them mindfulness meditation (check google scholar for increasing number of articles confirming the positive effects). It has been strongly associated with developing brain regions that are responsible for compassion and empathy. This is especially useful for children since they just have to follow the meditation instructions, without necessarily having to understand the relatively (for their age) complex concepts of the subject.

    Another way, which generally applies for children education, is by being a role model yourself.
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    Sep 21 2011: Actions are a form of teaching when it comes to children. They learn what they live and see and feel. As parents it is our obligation to teach our children. And yes compassion can be taught, taught through the actions our children witness.
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    Sep 21 2011: it would seem somewhat strange to say what I am about to suggest but I have watched it happen in front of me, so here goes... Children learn compassion and empathy when they experience one of their peers in pain. Now, I don't suggest that we set up little children to get hurt, but in the natural course of things small children will tussle or run and fall down or snatch toys away from one another. As a parent I was always working to have my twin children cooperate with one another and became very upset when the constantly bickered and fought. Looking back now I can distinctly remember the look of compassion that would come over the face of the child that was not experiencing the admonishment due to being the aggressor in an argument. The other twin would always crawl or walk up to the one that had been "in trouble" and lend a hand or speak in the twin language and off they would go, temporarily bonded through empathy.
    I truly believe that children have a huge capacity for love innately. A child was killed in a terrible car crash on the way to school last week. His brother was driving the car and they were hit by a pick up truck. The child was 15 years old. He died in the helicopter on the way to the hospital. His brother was terribly injured. Another child was also injured but not as badly.
    There was a candlelight service and a tremendous amount of children turned out to pay their respects and tell of fond memories. Many children came of their own accord with no adults present. Each of them spoke of their condolences to the family. It was beautiful and spontaneous and real. I believe that what they have been taught is to love freely from the heart and I can tell you that it doesn't always come from their parents but from their community, their peers, their chosen mentors. They reach out for it and it answers.
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    Sep 18 2011: I definitely think that teaching by example is the only way to teach empathy, because empathy is innate in children. The seeds of empathy are already there, even in infants, they just need the right environment - one where empathy is present.
    I work in an inner city elementary school, and recently had a 5-year-old who arrived in kindergarten already designated a 'behavior' problem. Talking to mum, she said he'd always been a problem, that he was mean and selfish even as a toddler, and she'd tried for years to teach him to be nice but he just got meaner. I asked her how she was teaching her son kindness and she gave me several examples. When he was little, and he had a bag of chips or some candy, if she asked for one, he'd always say "no! MINE!". So any time he wanted a bite of something she had, she'd tell him no, and remind him of the times he'd said no. She'd tell him "see, it's not nice. if you want people to share with you, you have to share with them". Same thing when he pinched his little sister. Sister would scream, and mum would arrive on the scene and pinch the little guy, saying "that hurts. see how it hurts?? don't pinch people if you don't like being pinched!". The same pattern played out name-calling and taking other people's belongings and all the other 'behavior' the child was exhibiting.
    I worked with the little guy for a year. When he wouldn't share his snack, I'd offer him some of mine, and we'd talk about how nice that felt. When he'd hit me, I'd just move away, and keep hugging him each morning when he arrived. If he called me names and swore, I'd ignore it and talk kindly to him. I didn't show him how it felt to be the recipient of those kinds of action; I didn't even tell him. It's unnecessary. He needed to see people he was attached to acting with kindness. He needed to feel kindness. He doesn't behave that way at school anymore...children are naturally empathetic (not to be confused with selflessness) clicks on when they're exposed to i
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    Sep 17 2011: I think doing charity work from a young age and exposing kids to documentaries are small steps. But anything you try and stuff down kids throats they often will rebel against, I found my empathy on my own. and I do think there are innate abilities within us to be more or less empathic biologically- Basically though if they are treated kindly and with boundaries and understanding, I think kids would be more likely to have compassion towards others, if they are socialized and then acceptance is re-enforced from a very young age with all parents being involved and doing the same instead of parents judgements rubbing off on them, it can make for more well rounded young adults as they progress through adolescence. Sadly, it is also taught when children are ostracized to some degree they in turn, as adults have a better understanding of compassion since they have experienced the hardships themselves.
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    Sep 15 2011: First thing is first. We are born wanting to belong.
    If we are not nurtured and cared for from the very beginning it will have to be taught and thus those who will be taught to learn how to be empathic may only be able to imitate compassion — (cannot dismantle their personal identities into a bigger and more connected self) or worse, they will have no ability for it at all, subsequently leading to the inevitability of the various forms of violent behavior that we are all so familiar with.
    The goal should be to maintain our innate soft wired capacity for compassion, that is found in our structural constitution, from the very start.
    The next goal is for economic democracy. To create environments that are conducive to meet everyone's needs and represent our highest natures.
    Schools should teach cross cultural appreciation and the relativity of cultures institutionalized values, comparative religion (especially eastern thought like Taoism), Ecology, and so forth. Schools should encourage students and teacher to collaborate more than they do now and once again, enrich the focus towards a highly interdisciplinary curricula.

    I could go on, but I think I made my point. Thanks.
  • Sep 15 2011: I think we can teaach our children compassion and empathy by giving them opportunities to be compassionate. When I first read the question, I thought of this article I read a couple of weeks ago.
  • Sep 13 2011: human nature is inherently good they shouldn't have to be taught
  • Sep 12 2011: compassion is very much a function of a neuron type called the von economo neuron. It is found in all higher primates. Suffice it to say that it is of much interest in treating the type of child that I do i.e. the autistic child. The way a higher primate, such as the human learns is by seeing and doing. Therefore, all being equal, the best way to teach a normal child compassion is by example.
  • Sep 11 2011: I think the most effective way to teach children anything is by example. Whether we, or they, realize it; they take in all they see and learn from it - if you are not showing compassion and empathy, they are not learning it.
  • Sep 11 2011: Listening is key for starters. No interruptions and questions relating to what they do not understand. A time of reflection and contemplating what they have heard. From there, there is understanding.

    Perhaps if you want to invoke compassion and empathy, role play is good in drama classes. May be suggesting in their next lesson they will be 'this character' in 'this situation' and they must research the scene and the same for situation with a different character for another child in the class therefore we are broadening the perspective.
  • Sep 9 2011: Recently I have been working on a mindfulness program for children and families. Compassion is a core quality of mindfulness and children can certainly learn. There are many exciting compassionate activities for children, parents and care givers to explore and share with each other. Children have tender hearts and want to share and receive compassion with others in their lives. I go directly to the home and meet with the whole family for an hour each week...its lovely and everyone feels nourished and care for. lately, I have been thinking about the word compassion, and wondered if it was as simple as passion for our community...even if that community is just one other.
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    jag .

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    Sep 9 2011: In personal development/spiritual growth, there are lots of methods and techniques, and some of them dont work, I've tried lots. And two that I have found that do work are the releasing (negative) emotions and inquiring (negative) thoughts. These are the 'Sedona Method' and 'The Work'.

    Heres a video about 'The Work', the children are quite amazing;
  • Sep 8 2011: I think stating (and showing) compassion as the intention of all moments, while remaining open and not knowing is critical. And admitting quickly and directly when we are not compassionate with children, or others, and making that a central part of the teaching. How we maintain compassion to ourselves as we admit its opposite is key. As a father of 4, I recite this Zen koan to my kids (ages 6 to 17) from time-to-time: "I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings. What am I?" I let them know I do not have the answer, but it is with the asking of the question that we can begin to peel away the filters that separate us from them, me from you, etc. The suffering I see is not my own, nor is it theirs, this suffering is one that we all share, it only manifests differently. Discriminating suffering obscures its cause and cessation. The compassion we have is not our own, but all of ours and then some. Not knowing is the way to transform suffering into compassion as Joan Halifax so rightly said.
  • Sep 8 2011: Hi Colleen, You identify a really important reason for compassion, empathy (and morality) being taught in schools. As you say, often abuse and neglect are factors in childrens' lives from the time they are born. Sometimes this is picked up, sometimes not, but in our tough economic times often little can be done to help. For a child who is subject to such abuse and/or a very poor example of compassion from his/her carers, it is vital that the education system teaches such things... it may be the only place where a child learns that they can be different from those around them, that they can create their own chances, that they have hope and that love is something they can give, even though they have been shown none. The love/empathy of a teacher might be the only love a child gets.

    I have a father in law who was adopted at the age of 4. His lack of compassion and empathy is excused by all around him because of this. There are so many examples of others who have overcome hardships of various kinds. I believe that only a small amount of the inspiration required to overcome hardship comes from within..... most will come from an inspiring mentor or even a small event which will be the lynchpin for a turnaround. This applies to kids and adults but seems to me to be more important for kids since they have the whole of their lives ahead of them and once a behaviour/attitude is entrenched it is so much harder to change.

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      Sep 8 2011: Hi Fiona,
      Yes...I don't think it is good to excuse or ignore lack of compassion, and we need to recognize that there are many wounded people in our world. We often do not know the circumstances of a person's life.

      A situation comes to mind...
      I was volunteering in a shelter, when a young women was brought in. She was very angry argumentative, and very difficult to connect or communicate with. As her story unfolded, she was 17 years of age, pregnant by her father for the 3rd time, and carried the bruises and scars of being used in satanic torture by her parents and their friends. It is not a mystery as to why she was angry and difficult to connect with.
      She was a member of a nice little community and attended local schools all her life. No-one ever noticed that she was raped and tortured all of her life???!!! They just wrote her off as a very angry, argumentative kid.

      I agree...inspiration to overcome challenges comes from within, AND from all those we interact with. I believe we are all connected, and on this earth school to support and encourage each other in our life journey:>) To reach out to someone with compassion, is actually giving compassion to myself as well.
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    Sep 8 2011: I'm stealing the 'I've never been a mother before" remark, Colleen :) Here's to new experiences and suspended expectations!!
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    Sep 7 2011: Nonviolent Communication, a process created by Marshall Rosenberg, is hugely effective with kids - with people of all ages for that matter. It is based on the language of feelings and needs. When we can talk to each other from that place, there is no conflict - because needs never conflict- and there is a magical connection to our innately compassionate hearts.

    Each time I watch the magic happen, I am transformed.
  • Sep 7 2011: Children are born with the capacity to care for self and others, some are taught to not care for self and others, others are taught to only care for self. The only way to keep children whole is to meet their needs, they can then have the inner strength to care for others. We need to challenge practices that harm children's bodies and souls (corporal punishment, genital mutilation, etc.), we need to create a world safe for children, then we can expect to see children offer they compassion they contain.
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    Sep 7 2011: The way it has been taught through history... demonstration.
  • Sep 6 2011: By Example
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    Sep 5 2011: In this conversation I see many people making the statement that if we consistently show compassion and empathy our kids will inevitably learn to be compassionate and empathetic. I agree with this statement but I think it poses the question of how do we teach parents, and all possible parents, to be genuinely compassionate and empathetic? Joan mentioned teaching empathy to medical providers, but may be we should have compassion training in every field because as long as you are working with other people there is a need for it.
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      Sep 6 2011: Benjamin,

      I think the answer is not teaching as in "telling" it is teaching as in "doing," and coaxing others to see how and when they are "doing" compassion. This is an iteration on acting as a model of compassion. Which while critical, is, I fear not enough. Only by both acting with compassion and echoing, reflecting, pointing out and, this last one is rather important, rewarding compassion can compassion be truly learned.

      In cultures which model individualism if not anti-social behavior, this is tremendously hard. Not to say it shouldn't be done.

      But parents do not parent alone. People can learn to be more compassionate and teach their kids to be the same, but when others don't show the parent(s) compassion, the children will take note. When people isolate parents, teachers, faith groups, social service organization, health professionals, ie: people who 'should' care, as the people who need insure our children learn compassion, but don't see industry, marketing, media, sports, etc. as significant counter-forces we are setting up parents and children to fail to meet a compassionate ideal we hold, but in so many ways don't always model.

      Of particular interest to me are how adults, particularly, public figures like politicians model or not compassion. With widespread divorce, brutal partisan rhetoric, disrespectful institutional behaviors, etc. it is ironic to me that so many of us worry about our children learning compassion, when the adults our society show little sustained abilities to act so.

      Again, not to say we should not keep trying. But more to say, we need to start teaching politicians, sports stars, CEOs, and such compassion, perhaps more than any other sectors of culture if we care to have our children's healthy development. Parents, teachers and medical professionals often do what they do specifically because they tend towards compassion.

      They will be not only more successful when the rest of society gets it, but relieved.

    • Sep 6 2011: If parents lack compassion themselves,obviously, it will be harder for them to raise kids that will be compassionate. If they want to change, counseling is the route to take,perhaps; it requires commitment and love of self and self-respect, as well as respect and love for others. As in addicts, in AA, patterns and behavior are difficult to change, and it is up to each individual to do the work.
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        Sep 7 2011: Debbie--

        While therapy is a tool, it is only one. And while it can be of tremendous use in treatment of pathologies, like addiction, and, as, you note for obtaining self-acceptance and respect, I think it is less effective in teaching empathy and compassion for others.

        Therapy happens mostly in isolation, with a client seeking help for a problem and, often the treatment involves the therapist defending and/or sympathizing with the clients behaviors as an ally. People (and parents) who have pathological problems with empathy, such as narcissists or socio-paths, similar to addicts, rarely seek treatment on their own. And even when they do get therapy, tend to be treatment resistant.

        And even for garden variety selfishness, lack of compassion, etc., therapy seems only to go so far.. A close colleague of mine is a deeply respected relationship therapist who has spent the better part of his career trying to change the therapy industry, by pointing out how therapy has contributed to higher divorce rates. Needless to say, he and others have made little headway. Divorce is now more common than intact marriage. And divorce, at the end of the day, would seem is a breakdown of empathy with ones own spouse,

        They blame a culture of individualism, which, ironically individual therapy unintentionally feeds into.

        Many see more hope in cultural solutions than expert/patient or expert/client solutions for relational changes in things like empathy and compassion.

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        Sep 7 2011: Public opinion and "Our Common Desires" need help as well.
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          Sep 7 2011: Stella --

          I agree. So, how can our public opinion and common desires be helped?

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      Sep 6 2011: That is exactly the heart of it, Benjamin. If children acquire empathy and the habit of compassion through the example and encouragement of others in their lives, what happens to children who don’t have that modeled in lives around them?
      I happen to believe that empathy and compassion are natural and normal, but a lot can go not so good for folk who don’t have the opportunity to feel and know the personal empowerment of compassionate acts early on.
      It doesn’t all fall to parents , family and teachers. Each of us, as adults, with every child we meet along the way, has a chance to give a child the experience of the compassionate presence of another. One single encounter with the experience of compassion can change a child's life forever...or so I believe

      (edited for typos)
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    Sep 5 2011: We teach children compassion and empathy by showing them compassion and empathy in our interactions with them and with others. We can show films illustrating compassion and empathy and the opposite and ask them which is the best way to achieve a positive outcome. Children are very perceptive.
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    Sep 4 2011: Education should be founded as much as possible on kindness. A human being is a sensitive and emotional being and has an innate kindness. This emotionality is the basis of morality, but as the emotionality can easily deteriorate into an egocentric attitude, it must be refined by education. Kindness, another name for love, should always be the binding element in every education. Whoever develops kindness also cares about the other virtues, such as fairness, loyalty, honesty and other manners that are based on the respect for the feelings of the others. The result of such an education is not a guarantee for happiness, but it will always bring more harmony and inner peace in a child and in the world.
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    Sep 4 2011: I'm a 20 year old guy, on the threshold of adulthood, so I may not be the best person to speak about this, but I believe that the method of teaching children is to blame. We generally use the positive reinforcement stuff on children, rewarding him/her if they do the right thing and punishing them if they do the opposite. But this pushes them into a mechanized way of looking at things. Compassion is to be learnt not through examples but rather through experience. This is what I feel and I wish to learn a lot from you guys, for I'm new to this place. Thank you.
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      Sep 4 2011: i disagree, i am 18 and i wouldn't accept blame from someone else. Keeping in mind blame and responsibility are different. i accept responsibility for myself so i dont blame anyone, and its unacceptable for people to blame me for their mistakes. its easy to point a finger and say 'you did this' but in truth i know i am still responsible for myself.

      By demonstrating what compasion is to you, will you experience that. and others will notice by your example.
      • Sep 6 2011: May I just add here, that first of all, Blame ,or Shame ,is a useless and negative, harmful word, especially toward a child. What is accomplished by playing the blame-game? It is so easy to be easy on yourself , or others. Also, it feels better. We just try harder in my family to not even use the word.

        Also, Benny, what did you mean in your other comment about ending suffering or pain? Are you in this state of mind yourself? Or is it a metaphor of some kind. It seems you choose the negative road, rather than seeking the positive....also it concerns me that you believe that self-centered people are the most loving, and that they have chosen to suffer less and end their pain? I sincerely hope that this blog is monitored.
        Benny you concern me, and after reading your entries you sound as if you could use a counselor to help you sort out these feelings, if indeed they are what you believe. Rewards, praise, love, unconditional love is all part of raising good kids, but discretion with rewarding and praising is all about when someone needs and/or deserves it! I don't see enough of it, frankly, after being around public and private schools for years,watching parents with their kids, and raising two sons.BTW read my entry, "my"guys, not perfect, and are 18 and 25, are loves of my life, and touch the hearts of all they meet. It works!
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      Sep 4 2011: I agree with both of you Aditya and Benny,
      As people "on the threshold of adulthood", you are the PERFECT people to speak about this:>)

      I agree that the reward and punishment method may not be the best tool for learning compassion.
      You're right...this practice sometimes pushes people into a "mechanized way of looking at things" when they do not understand some of the underlying feelings. I saw that with young men in jail for example. You only get punished when you get caught right? So, if they can be rewarded (money, stolen goods, etc.) and not get punished, then they may not realize all the ramifications of the actions. This is what you call "mechanized way of looking at things" Aditya, and you're very perceptive to understand that. To feel compassion and empathy, we need to be able to feel all the emotions within the situation, and that does not come from reward/punishment teachings.

      I agree that blame and responsibility are different. When we take responsibility for our own feelings and actions, we don't have to blame someone else. With the reward/punishment practice, we are not teaching responsibility, do you think? Someone outside ourselves offers the reward/punishment, so this practice sidesteps the opportunity to learn responsibility and accountability, don't you think? It seems like you are actually agreeing with Aditya, and coming at it from different angles:>)
      Good insight from both of you:>)
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        Sep 4 2011: thank youu,

        encouraging compassion is different to rewarding it dont you think?

        a reward comes after a deed; usually to people trying to get something.
        if you do this you get that


        encouraging a behaviour or emotion shows whats desirable before and after so its a continuous thing and requires nothing.

        If people are innocent, namely young people who for the majority ; do not know or re-member themselves very well. why punish them at all. simply encourage them to be compassionate.

        if someone is not being compassionate but will change for money
        then reward by all means
        it might just be worth it.
        unless its not.
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          Sep 4 2011: Yes:>) The only thing it requires, is awareness. To me, compassion is a gift I give myself, as well as others. To be aware and mindful in myself, is simply opening the heart and mind to more information and the ability to connect with more people, and I would not deny myself that opportunity to learn and grow:>)

          I agree..."it might just be worth it...unless it's not"
          With awareness of our "self" we decide what is important to us...what has value...or not:>)
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    Sep 3 2011: We do it at home, we do it in the classroom, we do it in our states, we do in our country, we interweave it in our Foreign Policy, we do it in other countries and continents. We do it everywhere and in every opportunity.

    Showing others, children or otherwise, how to be compassionate makes us better teachers and followers of compassion.
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    Sep 3 2011: The best way to teach ANYTHING is to be what we want to see...demonstrate the behavior we want to teach consistantly.
  • Sep 3 2011: I don't think Compassion and Empathy is something that can be taught as you would teach a child to count to ten.

    Compassion and Empathy are emotions and different things trigger these emotions in different people.

    I'm sure there are ways to force a response that is not genuine but is that what we really want?
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      Sep 3 2011: I think empathy is an emotion, but compassion is an action. We empathize with someone's suffering (see it as they do), and then perhaps are stirred to act compassionately toward them. I found it interesting what Joan Halifax described in her talk as one of the potent enemies of compassion: pity.

      I agree that different things may stir empathy in different people, but at some meaningful level the human condition shares a great deal across all race, gender, socio-economic and political divisions.
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      Sep 3 2011: Bob, I think you are greatly underestimating the power of experience as a teacher of cempathy and compassion.

      For example, if I were to take you to the heart of Africa and give you a true face to face experience with hunger and it's tragic consequences, you would most likely come back with a different, more compassionate understanding of it. It may even compel you to abandon everything you had done up to that point in your life and commit yourself to doing something about it.

      The same result might hold true for a number of experiences. Experience is a powerful teacher. Empathy and compassion can grow out of experience.
      • Sep 5 2011: That may have been the point I was making in that Compassion and Empathy can not be taught from a book in some and maybe many cases.

        As for wanting everyone to have compassion, I seem to remember a story about a boy and his dog. The dog became sick and the boy, in a compassionate moment killed the dog to prevent more suffering on both their parts. Compassion can be shown in many different ways, some may not be to your liking.
    • Sep 6 2011: YES, it is what the other humans around them want! Why not? And it definitely is the first choice over the alternative.
      If someone wants to help, get a great counselor, find out what is going on that this child has no compassion(it is such a scary thought), and I think it is never too late to learn. A book may not do it. Other humans who know love and devotion, compassion for others usually are people who love themselves or are at least on that path toward healing. Someone may trigger that quest to feel better about themselves; to volunteer, and see how good it feels to help someone else. Teachers are overwhelmed in classrooms, and parents are fooling themselves if they believe these people will turn their kids' problems around in a 50-minute class, full of 30 other kids. This is learned at home. Love begets love.
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    Sep 3 2011: We can teach children compassion and empathy by modeling it in our own lives and involving them in our own act sof compassion and empathy. An 8 yr old friend of mine has just strated a savings account for money he earns and is given. He has allocated /3 to homeless people and is exploring how his modest savings account might best serve homeless people.

    I learned at home..mainly from my mother who had enormous compassion for people in difficult circumstances and for animals It was thorough listening to her talk with respect and care about people whose lives had touched hers and learning from herkindness to animals that compassion and emoathy were instilled in me.
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    Sep 3 2011: the moment i read this question, an immediate answer came to me. live it. be an example of it. i noticed several other people had the same answer.. but yeah, i think that's the best way.. words are worthless if they see adults around them doing otherwise. and as another means, i think cartoons, movies, and tv are a powerful form of influence, especially shows where the children can relate to the characters.
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    Sep 3 2011: Carter,

    Wonderful Q! At risk of oversimplifying I'd say it is rather easy to teach children compassion and empathy. First, by being compassionate and empathic and inviting them to join in doing same.

    The challenge is we live in a wider culture glorifies individualism and competition nearly from "cradle to grave" to adapt Bono's phrase. Aggression comes somewhat later than birth, but not much, and recedes somewhat before grave, but again, not much, these days. Media and money are the accelerator on both ends.

    An idea is to consciously ignore the norms these means "normalize," and to audaciously model "passionate empathy & compassion" that engages kids. Some ways I like:

    1. Allow children to be curious about others. The simple act of a child asking an honest question adults wouldn't dare to can knock down walls in a flash. I think of a friend who is in a wheelchair, who, when children ask what happened feels more part of the "mainstream," less lost isolated and lost in his own thoughts. He's become an engaged "safe" leader for children, who, once they've "figured him out" see in his vulnerabilities and strengths evidence of their own insecurities and capacities.

    2. Pair kids with a very different other to see the "hidden humanity" in the other. Invariably by looking for the good or unique in the other, they begin to see their own. With practice this becomes a satisfying habit. Not only does the child feel good for being compassionate, but again, is rewarded by seeing something empathic of themselves in reflection. Here is how I've observed kids. to their delight (and mine!) get this:

    3. Sneak opportunities to practice compassion and empathy into play and notice the results. My favorite story of this comes from the basketball court at a YMCA. A stunning moment when I "got it," thanks to the example of a Muslim mom:

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    Oct 1 2011: Children learn through process of observation & absorption...... Surrounding modification is the most optimal route.
  • Sep 27 2011: Role modelling. Children learn from adults and tend to mimic adults' behaviour when much younger. Be compassionate towards the kids as well. When they feel that they are being treated with kindness and thoughtfulness, they would gradually learn to appreciate it and show compassion towards others. Incidental learning plays a part too..Seizing opportunistic moments to teach them values of compassion and emphathy is very authentic learning..
  • Sep 27 2011: There are some great responses to this question; and I believe the question is an important, even essential one. I agree with those who say the answer is in role-modeling. We have to be the empathy and compassion we would want for our children. I think we also need to talk to them about issues / people / situations that require empathy and compassion - in simple terms they can understand. This needs to help shape their world-view: a world-view where no-one deserves to be in pain or suffering or poverty or fear. We need to tell them stories of compassion and empathy. How else do we form young people: it's though what they hear and see and feel.
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    Sep 26 2011: I believe we must live by example more than anything. If we don't live compassionately, how will our children ever learn it from us? We tend to get so self-involved in our lives that we forget we are the first teachers to our children. Live in compassion and they will automatically learn it from us.
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    Sep 26 2011: I remember as a child that one family member would exaggerate pain or sadness and another would demonstrate (as if on cue) the proper behavior in these situations. Consistency is important. I do the same with my children but only my brother remembers how to do this properly.

    Another thing to consider is not shielding them too much (within reason), I remember contrast was very important to my development.

    Empathy is very subjective so this is a difficult question to answer.
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    Sep 25 2011: Borrowing words from Agathon in Plato's Symposium, adults "neither do, nor suffer, wrong to or from any person." This means when you need to be intolerant, you do so firmly yet kindly. In this way, adult emphathy is inclusive, and children get it, because it comes naturally to them.
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        Sep 29 2011: Alex, I like it:
        “Education should be founded as much as possible on kindness. A human being is a sensitive and emotional being and has an innate kindness. This emotionality is the basis of morality, but as the emotionality can easily deteriorate into an egocentric attitude, it must be refined by education. Kindness, another name for love, should always be the binding element in every education. Whoever develops kindness also cares about the other virtues, such as fairness, loyalty, honesty and other manners that are based on the respect for the feelings of the others. The result of such an education is not a guarantee for happiness, but it will always bring more harmony and inner peace in a child and in the world.”
        “Kindness,” as portrayed in Merriam-Webster online seems to involve more relationship than some people may want. That’s one of the problems I find with “compassion.” Because “love” can be taken in the same way—more attention than the other party wants, MW behooves me to employ the word “empathy”. I would like to learn of more used word; many people don’t think “empathy.” The teacher-student relationship is closer than most, so “kindness” might be very appropriate. (I am a chemical engineer.)
        Please take a look at a conversation I started, “Tolerance is insufficient: I propose “respect”. The product of that conversation was a five tiered, twelve column wide, up to 12 entry deep array of applicable words, negative to the left, “empathy” in the center, and “appreciation,” “understanding,” and “attraction” to the right. No one in the conversation approved of “tolerance” and a number of contributors thought that society’s reluctance to express intolerance is a major problem. Therefore, “tolerance” was to the left of “empathy” and “intolerance was to the right. I was astonished with the product of a short conversation by TEDsters!
        Your point “natural kindness” is well supported by James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense.1993. 1997 ed.
        Thank you,
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    Sep 25 2011: Perhaps, this might best be shown through our actions, on a daily basis, as opposed to a lesson on a piece of paper or being followed in lecture by students peering at a chalkboard?!
    What do you feel about this?!
    As, Ms. Raymond suggested, I could not agree more.
    There is a "but" unfortunately. If our community and civic leaders corrupt the chain of "demonstrated moral integrity", the consequences might unreel the collection of positive messages our young learners have already spooled around their little fingers. It only takes one exciting negative to destroy countless positives.
    Ms. Raymond? Mr. Harkins? How do you feel about these opinions?
    Thank you for the wonderful topic.
    Regards, Benjamin
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      Sep 25 2011: I guess, I just hope that at an early age we can surround our young people with the right set of influencing individuals, who not only set a good standard but also teach critical thinking. While I do 100% agree that one exciting negative can destroy a lot of demonstrated moral integrity, I hope that part of teaching is to instill critical thinking. My hope, is that the combination of critical thinking and empathy will lead to thinkers that can examine the behaviors of corrupt community leaders in the context of the long term harm they cause to society.
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    Sep 25 2011: In the case of children, I believe the best teacher is a good role model. Children must learn by the adults around them demonstrating compassion- which is more rare then one may believe. Compassion and empathy are both skills that must be part of our daily living- these are either all around us, or no one can expect children to pick these behaviors up on their own. Their parents, educators, care takers and community must model the behavior -everyday.
  • Sep 24 2011: I think we agree. Sadly, nature can be cruel in that children cannot select their parents and parents unready, unwilling, or unable to raise a child still can have children. Finding that delicate balance of knowing what a child can handle and then having situations that somehow match that expectation at the appropriate time in a growth process is not always easy. Age appropriate varies very much by child.

    Teaching children is half the equation. Training parents and giving them the time to parent in life's various other survival struggles is something society should consider. The parenting process needs to be fostered as well as the child eduction process.
  • Sep 23 2011: 1. By example.
    2. By age appropriate responsibility for the welfare of younger siblings
    3. Taking care of a pet.
    4. Volunteering for charitable service to help someone less fortunate.
    • Sep 24 2011: These are good things, but thats is how many people treat their children and they still dont understand, i feel that the main problem is the age appropriate responsibility part, they should be allowed more responsiblity then the equivalent age counterpart would, so children are given the opportunity to actually mature and understand the idea of empathy and compassion, what they are for, and what they truly mean and feel like. otherwise they will remain in the mindset of children of today...careless and greedy for the most part.
      • Sep 24 2011: More responsibility than they are ready for, involving another person or animal, may put that animal at risk. Like pruning a bonsai tree, there needs to be an adult over-seeing an mentoring the rate at which responsibility is given with a feedback control on how it is handled.

        Certainly the child given too much responsibility too soon loses part of their childhood and some events may create emotional scars. I think the emotional development and the physical development are coupled and should not be rushed.

        Careless might imply parenting efforts that were a bit too lenient. There has to be attention to detail instilled at some level, all through the growing/learning process.

        Greedy is a global problem. There seems to be a 'more is better mentality' that fuels many economies. The sooner one learns to be happy with what one has, the less greed becomes a driving force. Some fall in love with the push to get more, bigger, better, things..Apparently searching for happiness.

        I think an old person lesson is to create your own positive energy by finding happiness in helping others. Doesn't have to be material, perhaps mentoring or time. How to teach this to the young? Not sure. Perhaps by example, perhaps by showing them how to find self-gradification in helping others, perhaps showing them how to find beauty in nature, perhaps showing them how to enjoy the journey through life with humor, compassion, and sincere appreciation of friends and family. Mostly by example in these areas I think..
        • Sep 24 2011: I am in no way saying that kids should sink or swim, im just saying that they should be given responsibilities and have their parents guide them, to raise an adult instead of another consumer, someone who actually understands how things works at a young age so that the majority of children at that point would be much more mature and responsible, in which case education would be better, society would change drastically, it would help stabalize this world that we have, so that they cna move forward to defend humanities existance, i fully understand where you are coming from, and what i really mean to say is that children need to learn through experience, but we as parents are here to guide and teach our child, so that they can grow and be strong, any parent who would give there child every responsibility and then watch them fail is not worthy of being a parent, its just not all on the childs shoulders, but more responsibility for sure i feel is the best way to teach them something, because if we continue the way we are going, we will have more gangsters, delinquents, and an increased drop rate in school, meaning a more uneducated populous.
  • Sep 22 2011: I don't think compassion and empathy can be taught, it has to be learned through experience, in that regard, if we were to teach children compassion and empathy, we would first have to put them through hell...which is never a good thing, i feel that the best option would have to be, tough love while guiding children by morals and responsibilities, i feel that a child should be given responsibilities other than the remedial BS that parents dont want to deal with like trash, dishes, and what not, those things should be a family activity and a family effort, but for instance, opening a banking account for your son lets say, depositing money in it each month, and show your child how to pay bills, at a younger age, you would have full conrtol over the account, but giving him the chance to learn life lessons early, giving that child a sense of maturity and responsibility, knowing that you can trust him, treating children as if they were adults, until they need to be treated like children, i honestly think it would work, and i will try it with my first born, but that wont be for some time haha
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      YD PARK

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      Sep 23 2011: It's really a good answer. Teach children responsibility, like you said, is what really means in life. But what compassion means in life is by taking them to the hospital ,for example, to care for patience for one day or more to understand disabilities. Responsibility, I think, is a way of living. But feeling compassion is more or less the experience directly or indirectly.
      • Sep 23 2011: Yes, i fully agree, but with children, how can we say that they know the pain that those patients have gone through, as a child empathy, putting ones self in anothers shoes, would be so alien to them that it most likely wouldn't happen even if guided, compassion i feel could be taught if done properly, but the margin for error would be huge when dealing with a mind so young, I feel that if these things are to be learned, that other things that will bring them on should be taught, kind of like opening the dam, the water can only flow so much while the dam is there, but once taken away, it flows violently and rapidly, in teaching children to grow up and be good people, from the heart not the wallet, doing things because someone needs/wants help just for the sake of helping them, would allow that person to feel empathy and compassion through the teaching of being a good person that were instilled in them as a child.
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    Sep 22 2011: perhaps by showing them (and ourselves as young people and full adults) how to love others? That living life is not just about your own successes, but for the collective good of the community. Instead of reaching out and taking the entire pie for yourself, to share it with a person in school that is bullied or ostracized.

    I agree that sometimes such things cannot just be taught, but it must be lived. How can we expect children to love others, have compassion and empathy when some adults are fighting wars, spewing discrimination, racism, sexism and hate from our mouths? Children see, and they emulate. While I know this is not true 100% for EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the world, yet we must set the example. We must show the next generation what it is really like to be empathetic, to be compassionate. Only when we can show it, then we have the right to teach.
  • Sep 22 2011: Children learn from examples. Adults around them have to be a good role model. Adults have to do it consistently. I think we need to show our compassion and empathy to the child first. For example, if the child is hurt when he/she fell down, we should show that we empathize with his/her situation by taking good care of them and show that we care.
    Secondly, when we are with the child and we saw someone on the streets asking for help, we should approach them and help. After the whole situation was over, we should talk to the child and let them reflect their feelings.

    Get the child a diary or a blog as a platform for them to reflect on their feelings. Teaching children compassion and empathy can't be done overnight. It should be consistent and it is best if the child record his feelings themselves so that they can reflect on the situation in the future.
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    Sep 21 2011: Adults, they are somebody's child: 2 days ago while enjoying the company of a neighbor I witnessed a dog running along the other side of the busy main street. I promptly excused myself, ran to get my car, searched and found the dog and tried to coax her into my car. She continued to run and eventually found a garage to hide, I tried to coax her out when a man, I later understood to be her owner walked out of a house and asked where did I find her. After a good beginning of a conversation, I noticed she had recently delivered puppies and appeared malnourished. I asked if he was able to feed her. He became extremely defensive and let me know the conversation was over. I explained to him my concern and offered him food for the dog ... he became more belligerent, I knew there was a strong possibility of physical danger. As I walked away I let him know how I felt about his demeanor towards me. As I opened the door of my car, he called out to me and apologized and said his mother had asked him the same question and being his mothers age, would not want anyone talking to his mother as he had talked to me. We talked for 10 mins. or so, hugged and shook hands numerous times. As I was leaving he called out to me 'matter-of-factly' ... "You know, today I met a Friend" I wanted to cry.
    I had every reason to fear this giant of a man plastered with tattoos all over his body and sending out a warning of attack. But my love for his dog and the belief that he had to have some kind of compassion inside him, allowed me to stand firm my position.

    During our conversation he mentioned several people in the neighborhood of which I knew of, he mentioned one neighbor that had taught him carpentry and focused on his elementary school teacher that had lived in the neighborhood of which I too had known and had been my child's teacher.

    I recently moved back to the neighborhood and everyone I knew has moved. So I met a new friend as well.
  • Sep 21 2011: I would like to pass on an idea that has been gaining attention in Canada. The idea is to bring a baby and his or her parent into a elementary school classroom and engage the kids with the emotions of the baby. This strategy has caught the attention of restorative justice activists as a great method of teaching young kids in the art of empathy and compassion. Here is a link for more info.
  • Sep 21 2011: Compassion and empathy are not traits that can be taught. They must be felt, absorbed and experienced by the child for it to sink in. Since this is the case, the parent must exhibit these traits for the child to exhibit these traits. It is vital that the parent always show compassion and empathy around their child for if a child does not have these traits, a different issue arises.
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    Sep 20 2011: Providing an environment of Compassion, Empathy and Equality.
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    Sep 20 2011: Thank you.
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    Sep 18 2011: First parents should show compassion to children and to others.When we became compassionate children will learn from us.
  • Sep 18 2011: Now? By genuinely modeling compassion and empathy breath by breath.
  • Sep 18 2011: I think the best way to teach children about compassion and empathy is to first love themselves, then help them find appropriate ways to help others. i.e. Doing small things for others who may be sick, elderly, or shut in. Volunteering at least once a month to help someone who is truly in need. -- Watching less television and movies and not being allowed to play video games with violence. The tv, movies, and games desensitizes our children. Being more in touch with neighbors and talking to people outside of the family often helps to give them a more realistic view of the world.
  • Sep 18 2011: We have to be the exemple for the children always. We must to teach children at home, at school, every time. When they are near, close to people with some kind of dificult, they are learning with them. We need to be close with them. Share things, play games, stay with the olders.
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    Sep 17 2011: is agood question ,when the grow up the parnts should be give more social education thea mean give and make social converstion about many thing in our some like respect ,and love ,and helpful ,and this the sould doit when the children be 10 years because after that he will grow up,and he will change ,and willnot listen to his parnts .

    so the parnts should use the social education .
  • Sep 17 2011: We need to teach our children these things through example.Too many parents focus on their jobs and their daily routine and forget that they have a moral responsiblity to help their children understand and get through this world as happy and compassionate beings.Placing your kids in front of a television is poor parenting and transforms these children into narrow minded people.You need to introduce them to other cultures and languages.Show them that this world extends beyond their street and their school.
  • Sep 17 2011: Compassion and Empathy is gained by taking other perspectives into account.
    I think the key to think in multiple perspectives is to teach children curiosity. The need a motivation to understand other perspectives and only learning about these perspectives will lead to understanding.
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    Sep 17 2011: First we teach them to respect and love themselves. Then we give them compassion/empathy history situations. Giving them outcomes. We should also tell them to put themselves into a persons shoes when dealing with their feelings.
  • Sep 15 2011: What worked best for me personally was experiencing these issues first hand. SEEING the pain poverty causes children who maybe don't live in the greatest of house holds, experiencing issues from my own disability, helping them dive into the problems and see first hand how it feels, what is happening, and what we can do to make it better or at least less awful.

    Bhuvanesh has a WONDERFUL point about judging others based on prejudices and even one step further, our lack of experience dealing with a particular situation. When we don't truly understand how bad things can be, we cannot have compassion for people in that situation.
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    Sep 13 2011: To show compassion and empathy towards our children or the children we meet. How long is it, when you were a child? For someone else, we are always children. And, there is only one Mother Earth. The Earth is always expressing her compassion and empathy towards all nurturing upon her breasts, how old do her children have to get, before they return this gift?
  • Sep 13 2011: I think of it more as helping children understand compassion and empathy rather than teaching it. We all have desires and motives to connect with others, empathize with others, compete with others, etc. The ability to understand these urges and our feelings towards others is much different than simply knowing what they are.
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    Sep 12 2011: by NOT teaching them selfishness and prejudice and leave them alone ........ but everyone needs to join in and stop doing it ..... and that isn't going to happen ....maybe the same way they learn the opposite example .......
  • Sep 12 2011: Teaching empathy and compassion is a fallacy. It's like trying to teach kids how to make their anus push out excrement more efficiently when they're constipated, or teaching a color blind kid to recognize colors better. These aspects are physical conditions that are predetermined. However, we can teach kids how to utilize whatever emotional capacity they have for optimal gain. It's kinda like poker. You can teach kids how to play the cards they are dealt.
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    Sep 12 2011: Because it is more like a behavior that can be learned by observing and imitating rather then chemistry that can be taught through papers and tablets, i think we should teach by showing compassion and empathy to one another and surround our children with people (parents, family, teachers) that behave in that way. but we most remember that compassion and empathy are not the only qualities of a good society so we most not build a fantasy world for them as well.
  • Sep 11 2011: by the environment (world) we create for them.
  • Sep 11 2011: By BEING compassionate and empathetic. Few are.
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    Sep 10 2011: Teach by example.
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      Sep 10 2011: Wow Edwin, I hope you will elaborate on this because I am hoping that there is a misspelling in your answer.
  • Sep 8 2011: I´m not saying that I want that control, I´m saying that maybe iy should be controlled, just as many many other things are, and most of the time it´s controlled 'cuz we think it will make the world a better place..I think the problem with lack of compassion starts in the "home" where people just are not up for the task that is requierd. I´m not saying it´s something that will be perfect over a night but I think it should be open for discussion. I think that prof for being able to look after one self is a good start before making a dissicion to have a baby, I also strongly belive that it would decrease teenage pregnancy, maybe VD, TDS and all of that..more awerness and responsibility to the ones having kids..not that wierd in my world. To get a driverslicens you need to pass a test, to drink you have to be 21 (in USA), you´re never allowed to use drugs (only controlled substance). There are allways laws and regulations to optimize society. I think that the benefits of regulations will overcome the downsides. And hey - it´s your life, your choice to become a fit parent, if you fail deal with the concequences as in every other aspect of life. It´s not that i´m not compassioned, I´m trying to see the upsides and what could be done to make the future a nice place to live in. Im a teacher, on my spear time I coach ishockey, i´m where involved in all these questions..and if you do right and take care of your self and your "world" there won´t be a problem, it will only be a problem if you make it one...I can say for sure that alot, alot and some more, are not fit or even able to act as parents, they are just not there yet..being a teacher to 140 kids I can only do that much, and only for a short period o time, parenting is for life..I´m not saying it will be a problem for people to have kids, with regulations like this we could help guide people to get to that place where they are able to start a family..I´m just saying that the problem starts before the kids are born..
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      Sep 8 2011: Jesper,
      We can "help guide people" to be more compassionate without regulated population control.

      The topic is..."How do we teach children compassion and empathy". Long comments about population control seem to be off topic. Perhaps if you are determined to speak about population control you can start another conversation.
  • Sep 8 2011: somewhat of an extreme idea is; that you should regulate whom is allowed to have children. There should be some regulations according to mental health, pfysical health and maybe economic prosperity.
    We are already overpopulating the globe and is it really wise to let anyone be a part of that, I mean, for everyones sake, lets get some perspective. There are all these laws about different things that could harm the world, our self or others, but no one cares about going deep enough into the problem. The problem starts (ofcourse not all of them) when the wrong parents have children. People whom can´t take care of themselfs, ends up having a bunch of kids, really good idea..huh?
    I think that regulations about whom is allowed to have kids could be a motivation for people growing up to make the right decisions. it could be a motivation to do the right thing. -"if you don´t act like a good citizens, you won´t be able to have a family, if you don´t act right or contribute to community, you won´t be allowed to have children..makes perfect sence to me. But I know the idea is kind of extrem. And I´ll probably get some intense comments about being coldhearted or something liek that. But this is actually something I been thinking about for some time, and the reasoning allways ends up in the conclusion - regulate some laws about having kids. And if you up when your younger and get your life back on track when it´s "to late" to get children of your own, there´s always adoption, which should be considered by far more people already..
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      Sep 8 2011: Jesper,
      As long as you think your idea makes so much sense, I assume you are willing to make the rules and enforce them? You are willing to choose who will make good parents and who will not? You are ready, willing and able to administer this program? Perhaps you could think about it a little more?

      p.s. I'm looking beyond your idea with compassion, and trying to understand why you would want to have this control over people.
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    Sep 7 2011: It's the parents' job.
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    Sep 7 2011: It's so simple. Just you have compassion and empathy and children will learn trough the example.
  • MR T

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    Sep 7 2011: Because of the selfish gene.
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    Sep 7 2011: To teach children about compassion and empathy one needs to know about the history, science, and impact of compassion and empathy. It is not enough to just have compassionate feelings. Teaching is a whole order of magnitude more complicated than the level of awareness necessary to have the feelings of compassion and empathy. So, I'd recommend that people who wish to teach first do the necessary study and research, and of course, model the desired behaviors in all random acts of kindness...kindness all the time.
  • Sep 7 2011: Roots of Empathy is a great place to start! I read their book many years ago and their web page is

    This is an internationally acclaimed program that is implemented in schools with the direct purpose of teaching empathy to school age children. I had the privilege of participating in the program last year and found it to be quite profound. Sadly the program is still so new that most students will only come across it once in their school years if they come across it at all. Let's spread the word so that this program can be a regular part of every schools curriculum and that students participate in the program numerous times over their school years. Grade school, Jr High, High School.
  • Sep 7 2011: You can teach children this. My friend, Chick Moorman, is a wonderful example of someone who helps parents in creating a space of respect, compassion and love within a teaching environment [at home and even works with teachers to do so at school]. He's an author and I'd highly recommend checking his books out.

    For me and our family, we seem to gravitate to tools like books, seminars and such that reinforce rightful speech and action. The key though, it takes consistency and time.

    As often as I can [which has increased over the years to be more and more consistent] I use disagreements, frustration, anger and even commonplace situations as opportunities to teach and experience compassion. Teaching a child to investigate beyond the surface of life's happenings and look at many more perspectives than their own seems to open up the opportunity for understanding.

    Even more, teaching by example, as the adult - the lead - the one they seem to look at for answers ... it is a job I take very seriously.

    Consistency. Owning your own actions. Refining your ways of handling things. That teaches others to do the same.
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    Sep 7 2011: I am no expert - apart from having two children and being a practising Buddhist - but on a simple, basic level, I ask "would you like that done - or said - to you?" And then give them a little time to think about it - especially young children. And then "how could it be done - or said - differently?"
  • Sep 7 2011: Yes Stella, it does boil down to having a world-wide global community which supports a mutual guarantee, for people the whole world over to care for and help each other. Environment is not just the flowers, trees, air we breathe and other natural things around us. Anyone or anything (including dogs, cats, birds etc) one comes in contact with, whether it be personal, face to face, on the phone, on radio, on billboards, on TV, in movies, on the internet, by Skype or text or any other form of communication, is our environment which influences (and educates) us.
    All these, need to be supportive and rewarding of compassion and caring for each other, before children (and grown-ups) can feel their environment supports them. Only then will the worry, grief, competitiveness and stress which the environment of today lays on everyone, become problems of the past and people will be free to become what they should be, and compassionate education will happen.
    The world environment today is heavily structured to making money, wouldn’t it be great if we would re-structure our environment towards a “mutual guarantee”, where money can be irrelevant ?
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    Sep 7 2011: Hi Carter I think there already are some great ideas. It just crossed my mind this morning that role -playing activity or acting might be a way to bring out that empathy as well.Thats where children are invited to live other people's life(the character),pretending they think the same ,feel the same in the context of the story. do you think that might do?
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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.
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    Sep 7 2011: I see there is nothing as teaching compassion and empathy
    it's an not an automatic thinking even, it's a somewhat class associated instincts
    by class I mean, being able to do things preferred
    but in cases of not being able to find basic needs, would the person think of empathy or compassion?
    it's an economic issue, I think
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    Sep 7 2011: I believe empathy is an instinctual behavior among, most if not all, social animals that has evolved to enhance the survival of the species. That isn't to say evolution has a moral directive it just happens to be the thing that allows social animals to survive. Given that evolution is amoral and its only true objective is the perpetuation of a specific molecular structure (species), than a system that causes much death, with the outcome of perpetuating a species, will thrive. Given this who is to say that death or immorality isn't a positive indicator in the health of a species.
  • Sep 7 2011: I knew it. bye!
  • Sep 7 2011: Hello Carter,
    this is my firts comment on TED ever and your question really jumped upon my eyes making me fell a bit confused.
    At first I thought the question was focus on how to "destress" or "unstress" children from condictioneted empahty and compassion of the adults, because I fell that the best thing we can do is watchig and learnig how naturally a child has those qualities mentionated in his D.N.A.
    The homework for a parent or a teacher or anyone has to manage with kids and teenagers is show them how to be keen and proud to enjoy themeselfs in anything that they want to do, needs, abilities and so on. That makes it easier to say this than do it
    If adults care not enough, about what to do and how to live together, that will easly bring child to isolated him/herself pushing in his/her mind the idea that "first, here you have to survive"...!?
    The right message will come along if we do listen and care about ourself as one, for the common wellness, we need to fill up their knowledge on respect and love but once again it sounds much more easier to say it than do it.
    Don't you worry Carter the best answer is your question, it shows that you' re taking care of something, it may be that what you see around you or your kids is not what you aspect but your good wishing, asking yourself things like this will take children to fell this kind of vibrations, ringing up to compassion and empathy in their soul...
    You allready teach something without know it, the problem is that in the same way we give to kids loads of cheap sample of poor quality...
    I really would like to see USA!!

    wishing you all the best...Thank you!!
  • Sep 6 2011: Love the topic! Compassion and gratitude are two of the most high ideals for humanity. I have no children, but I know a well-to-do couple that insisted their two children feed the homeless, visit the elderly that have no family. They have even went to Mexican shanty towns and asked what they need (and supply the next trip). Truly giving of yourself and acknowledging there is suffering that you can ease is a very good start to teach children (or all of us) compassion.
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    Sep 6 2011: First of all all children have compassion and empathy. though If you want to teach them these two, demonstrate the same with them and others around them, this is the way to teach children easily and perfectly.
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    Sep 6 2011: Did you hear about Roots of Empathy? I think they're making steps in the right direction
  • Sep 6 2011: Hi, although I don't profess to be an expert on child development and psychology, there are ideas that I would like to share. My two sons are now 18, almost 19, and 25 years old. My observations over the years of not only my own children, but are of many others in play groups, their friends and homes that those kids grew up in, schools, in public places,even. I have a pretty good base line going, as my boys always were compassionate children as they grew up; there was even a lot of consistent feed-back from their teachers all the way from preschool to college, that they,(ind were: and I quote or try to, "a delight to have in their classroom", " "your son, at age 3 even, is so helpful if someone in playschool is having a problem with a project", " never a behavior problem"; of course they are kids, aren't perfect by any means, used to fight over toys as one was 5 when the 2nd was born. We raised them with unconditional love. Children learn what they live with and what is in the home; if we value compassion, so will they.... and we always were consistent with them in terms of agreeing together and not sending mixed messages about rules, etc.; rarely did we have to punish, we chose to praise good behavior and to communicate,or used timeouts like when they were very young(under 5). It is a fact that, although we parents worry about peer pressure, children establish their CORE value system from their families first,Peer group is in 2nd place.It is easy to see that in a home full of love, where parents or one parent or guardian, values love, compassion toward others and animals, too; helps out when others are in need; volunteers and gives back to their community;and LIVES compassionately, chances are good they will live and grow up to be the same way.Observe kids & parents;some yell daily,& I have seen parents hurt their child in public, what message is that giving?Or fight with parents at soccer matches. In front of the kids.Behavior repeats itself.I am blessed.
  • Sep 6 2011: I wrote this blog on compassion few months ago. I argue we should create CQ (Compassion Quotient) to measure compassion in people and help improve it.
  • Sep 6 2011: By teaching them to protect those kids who are bullied.

  • Sep 6 2011: We (parents & teachers) are the role models for small children. First we should practise it. By watching our activities the children will automatically learn from us . be compassionate with your neighbours, friends, spouse, parents& the people you meet in your daytoday life.

    1.Spend some time with the children.
    2.converse with them
    3.Discuss their problem they faceand suggest solutions with compassion and empathy.
    This will give a good result.
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    Sep 6 2011: I agree we need to change the culture of compassion, in the US as well as many other countries, among traditionally "cold" industries/professions. You mentioned "Parents, teachers and medical professionals often do what they do specifically because they tend towards compassion" which I also agree with but it begs the question, if teachers do their jobs out of, and by practicing, compassion then why aren't the kids who are becoming CEOs and politicians retaining this actively learned compassion as well as passing it on to their kids. People can learn to be compassionate towards some people while at the same time learning to be hateful towards others, and it seems to be largely based on in-group out-group beliefs. I believe no mater how compassionate a person is they have an antithesis that goes against the grain of their moral fibers. So if everybody has another person(s) that they disagree with at a fundamental level then how are we going to get rest of society to get it when most of us who think we have it don't.
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      Sep 7 2011: Benjamin--

      An excellent Q you ask:

      "If teachers do their jobs out of, and by practicing, compassion than why aren't the kids becoming CEOs and politicians retaining this?"

      My observation, (with respect to the increasingly fewer CEOs and politicians who don't fit) is:

      Even if CEOs or politicians embarked on their professions with capacities for empathy and compassion intact, the full-on, flat-out, no-time to think, must less reflect on non-ideal behaviors of the cultures of their professions washes empathy and compassion more or less out of them.

      Politics and business is measured by competition, money and power. S/he who has the most of any/all "wins." There is little public evidence that empathy and compassion pays off in these professions. (Though I'd argue that big picture payoff of both is far more important, including in terms of "real" power and "real" return on legacy/investments).

      Children observe this. And are left with dissonant lessons. They see that culture articulates and values education as roughly commensurate to competition for future positions of money and power. If they are aware of school and teachers salary funding cuts, this sends an odd message. That unless lessons teach them to achieve cultural standards (winning, money, power), they must not be all that important.

      Further, children have less capacity than adults to moderate their reactivity. They lack foresight about how today's behaviors impact futures. All which undermine teachers' efforts -- and can set up less than compassionate futures.

      I asked a similar Q:
      "How can authentic public leaders raise the standards of achievement for the pro-social skills we should have all learned when we were in Jr. High?" in this essay last year:

      It was triggered by observations of Tim Pawlenty on cusp of his run for 2012 US presidential race (which he recently withdrew).

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    Sep 6 2011: I definitely think that one CAN teach compassion and empathy to children and adults, and I think that it is done by: 1) explaining exactly what the words mean 2) giving examples of them, and 3) being compassionate and empathetic yourself (living example). Children are very impressionable and a lot smarter than many people give them credit for, and if you begin teaching them at an early age about compassion and empathy, they will incorporate those virtues into their own lives.
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    Sep 5 2011: We have wrang-wrangs all around us.... These are folks who raise children who have no compassion and lack empathy and show us what *not* to do. Simply don't do what they do!
  • Sep 5 2011: Can we teach until we are compassionate ourselves. While being driven by market / career requirements are we compassionate? If not, the first step is to look within. Become aware of where rests our emotions? Compassion need not be taught to children if we become compassionate towards them. It is like a gentle flame from the lamp.
  • Sep 5 2011: First of all, I agree with many comments including the idea that we must embody compassion and practice it before attempting to "teach" it. My outlook of teaching includes the idea learning, the two cannot be separated in any way or form. Three distinct methods stand out: 1. Looking at empathy and compassion with in the child's family and attempting develop an environment at home that nurtures compassion 2. Service Learning that enables children to experience people and ideas that they may have never encountered 3. Enable children to see our humanity as a whole and how all people want similar things and have basic needs for their quality of life.
  • Sep 4 2011: by teaching them that all people are equally deserving. look at any crime from genocide down to queue-jumping and the point that permits the person to commit the crime is the idea that "while i wouldn't do this to a member of my family, against this person it's OK".
  • Sep 4 2011: How Do We Teach Children Compassion and Empathy?

    By not ignoring them entirely.
    • Sep 6 2011: And how about this? By NEVER ignoring them; be present; love them; praise them when they achieve something or show kind acts; go to their school as much as you can, help out, even if you work 9-5 they do, too, and there is always something needed, and extra hands to help. Kids watch, see parents helping, with compassion...pretty obvious.
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    Sep 4 2011: How do we teach ourselves greater compassion and empathy
    just to stir up the hive
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      Sep 4 2011: Same what we want to see...more people may discover the contentment we experience in our own heart and mind with compassion and empathy, which comes from love:>) just edited your comment! Your first question was "how do we teach adults..."You changed it to "how do we teach ourselves"........practice...mindfulness...awareness:>)

      We actually don't have to teach ourselves anything because I believe, as the video points out, that we are already wired for compassion/empathy. We need to let go of the blockages we have adopted, which are usually defense mechanisms. Peal back the onion, so to speak, until we get to the core of our "self".
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        Sep 4 2011: he ho i love your responses they so stimulating for my senses. feeling the ted love; its terriffic. be i so bold as to say there are no enemies in the world; only those who disagree with your point of view. maybe this gives us some insight into compassion and the battle against right and wrong...i am willing to assert that i feel we could resolve our differences in perspective through other means than that of war. much less suffering, much less pain. much more compassion.

        yeah i changed it i thought this was more appropriate; didn't mean to rock your boat; debates and public scrutiny or critical thinking are the fastest ways to solve these issues i believe. But for sake of further discussion i could agree that self centered people are the most loving. is this what you mean??
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          Sep 4 2011: It's ok boat is pretty stable...just had to adjust the sails a wee bit:>)

          That's a pretty bold statement all right...if it works for be it:>)
          I agree...we could resolve our differences with more compassion:>)
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          Sep 4 2011: GEEEZ edited this a test to see if I'm paying attention?...LOL:>)

          "For sake of further discussion...self centered people are the most loving. is this what you mean"?
          I didn't say that anywhere, but I will address it.
          I believe it depends on what the "self centeredness" embraces. We can be "centered" in our "self", which to me means we are aware of our "self" and also of others. We can be so self centered that we ignore others, and that to me, is not very benificial.
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        Sep 4 2011: forgive me for changing my contents i am keeping future readers in mind and adapting what i say to broaden the discussion. maybe this will do from me.
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          Sep 4 2011: It's been fun "talking" with you Benny:>)
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        Sep 4 2011: he ho thanks heaps :DDD
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    Sep 4 2011: I think children will only grasp the meaning and purpose if they gain experience from some of the direct sources that derive from compassion and empathy such as poverty, inequality, starvation, misjudgment, and any and many others I haven't mentioned. I'm not saying one should starve their own child or make them wear rags, I'm suggesting that we show them a wider view of the world and teach them that it's ok to have these two kinds of emotions or qualities.

    Allow children to see the imperfections of the world, allow them to hear the words from those who plea for peace, allow them to be explorers of the world, and they can learn what compassion and empathy are on their own. I believe a person can only embrace these two qualities through personal experience. I don't think we can teach them how to be compassionate and empathetic, but I believe we are to guide them in their journey when they learn how to become these two qualities.
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    Sep 3 2011: We first teach them by showing it first. On my experience as an aunt, I also like to ask and ask situational questions regarding human compassion to my small nieces and nephews. I often think I've learned it myself when I started to read/hear Les Miserables. Nothing can teach us human compassion as deeply as it does. But this novel/opera is not for children, after all (let them grow a little first he he to known about revolution lol )! So think of the saddening story of "The Little Match Girl" as a replacement. This will help little children bring out their opinions on humanity as a whole and human compassion as a part. Generally, children's literature is the a best way to let them learn.
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    Sep 3 2011: Agreed with the thoughts below of setting example for kids.
    Starting point should be each and every home , responsibility should be taken by all individual self.
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    Sep 2 2011: That's amazing! And I can see the connection completely.
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    Sep 2 2011: I believe the best thing is to make them understand by interacting with children of their same age with differential abilities and those living in various other circumstances. I know how my outlook was changed after I visited a school for the mentally retarded and saw their abilities. They had the skill and wanted to be cared, the only problem was that everyone sympathized them but not actually reached out or empathizes with them. This would enable them to value their own life as well as develop a better awareness of how these children want to reach the same level as them.