One thing we focus on in homeschooling is teaching empathy and compassion to our kids.
What is the difference between empathy and compassion?
What is compassion? The compassion definition is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
What is the difference between compassion and kindness?
There is a difference between compassion and kindness. Compassion is feeling sympathy for someone who is going through a tough time. Kindness is an act of being nice, helping someone in need, or helping someone going through a tough time.
We take our children’s learning super seriously, yet all the academics in the world won’t matter if our children are self-absorbed and lack love for humanity.
Homeschooling is an enormous, weighty responsibility.
We spend countless hours researching curriculum or planning the perfect science experiment.
Then, we join homeschool co-ops and practically live at our local library.
We quiz our students while sitting in traffic.
And, they do summer reading programs and book reports during the summer.
You can tell your kid to put others first and she might do it outwardly to stay out of trouble or to please you, but real change–internal change–doesn’t come because Mom and Dad say so.
So, how do you go about teaching empathy and compassion to kids?
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Teaching Empathy and Compassion to Kids
Lasting, authentic habits are established when a child experiences something for herself.
Teaching empathy and demonstrating compassion happens in a million little practices.
Here are a few ways our family teaches empathy and chases benevolence.
Teaching Empathy and Compassion Example #1: Have Your Kids Sponsor Other Kids
Nothing gets through to children like seeing the way other kids live.
It’s easy to sign up to sponsor children in other countries–places our children will probably never see with their own eyes, but which come to life for them through sponsorship.
When letters arrive from our sponsored children, we find their homes on our globe, talk about their lives and each add a little note (and often a drawing or photo) to our response back to him or her.
We sponsor kids through Compassion International, World Help, and Holt International.
I can vouch for each of these organizations from our experience.
Poverty-stricken children receive medical care, education, Bible teaching, clothing, food, and sometimes even farm animals.
Our family learns the lesson of sacrificing eating out or a trip to the zoo for the opportunity to be Christ’s hands and feet to another family.
We glean a small glimpse into others’ lives and the discussions that follow are always heartfelt and remarkable.They get it.
As they get older and earn more money on their own, our girls will each sponsor a child without our help.
Compassion International offers the Compassion Experience and I highly recommend you make time for that field trip.
Go to their website to see if the Experience is coming to your area and then take an hour to walk through the replicas of houses, see the chores and home life and learn about the education of kids in need.
It’s heart wrenching and eye opening and memorable.
Several years ago, the missions team at our church set up a small house in the middle of our church’s courtyard.
You couldn’t miss it and our eldest was immediately drawn to it.
She ran to see what those pieces of wood and tarp paper meant.
After a quick glance inside the small, dark space, she popped her head out and the questions started.
“Where is their TV?”
“Where do they keep their toys?”
“How does the whole family sleep in the same room?”
Answering those questions was a step in the right direction for our family.
It was the beginning of our daughter’s journey toward active compassion and a great tool for teaching empathy.
Teaching Empathy and Compassion Resources
Also, read Material World: A Global Family Portrait and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel.
In these books, photographers travel around the globe to see what real families own and eat.
Or watch Living on One Dollar, a documentary about four friends who spend two months in Guatemala living on a dollar each day.
It illustrates how much of the world lives on the same amount.
Teaching Empathy and Compassion #2: Model That Homeless People Are People, Too
When we moved to a new city, I was shocked by the number of homeless I saw all around town.
I sat stiffly facing forward, hands gripping the wheel, begging the light to change, not glancing out my window at the man holding a handmade sign asking for “any help at all.”
Maybe if I pretended he didn’t exist, I could pretend Jesus hadn’t asked me to care for him.
I assumed all transients were druggies or alcoholics, lowlifes who should suck it up and get a job.
Or maybe they were faking their desperation and made plenty of money panhandling and then went home to their normal house every afternoon.
Where was their family?
Why didn’t they ask for help from their friends?
I didn’t even know them and therefore they were not my responsibility.
I remember the exact intersection I sat at.
Once again, I was desperate for that green light when God spoke to my heart clearly and without even the hint of a stutter.
“Lisa, this isn’t about them. It’s about YOU. As a believer, you are to take care of my children and these people are ALL my children. Their story or background or life choices are not your concern. Your concern is pleasing me and doing for the least of these as you would for my Son.”
Talk about a wakeup call.
From that moment forward, my attitude about the homeless people on the side of the road changed and our daughters (who were five and three at the time) have been raised with an entirely different perspective than I had the first 35 years of my life.
You want your kids to be compassionate?
Show them compassion.
Let them see your generosity.
Live it out.
We always carry food and water in our car to hand out to people.
Our girls regularly hand food through their window, look a fellow human being in the eye, and converse with him.
They don’t think anything of it.
It’s natural for them because it became natural for us and we practice it.
Teaching Empathy and Compassion Example #3: Participate in Compassion Activities
Don’t forget to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio (the movie was pretty good, as well).
All ages will be moved by August’s story and inspired to choose kindness.
(Be sure to check out the precepts! What a great kindness project with kids!)
If you get the chance, also read anything by Bob Goff (like Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World) and let his joyful, consistent outlook on life brighten your day and guide you as you guide your littles toward natural, long lasting compassion.
When given examples of and opportunities for teaching empathy and compassion, watch your children take it out into the world and make an incredible difference.
What are ways you’re teaching generosity to your kids?
Do you volunteer together?
Do they see you tithe?
I’d love to hear your ideas!
For more posts by our guest writer Lisa, read her blog at www.armedonlywiththis.com.