March 26, 2019

Earlier this month, the world was rocked by an unspeakable act of violence against people who were peacefully following their ritual of worship in Christchurch, New Zealand.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won widespread praise for her sincere empathy and compassion in her dealings with the victims and survivors of the attack.  In particular, her choice of wearing a headscarf has earnt her plaudits from all over the world, with Dubai projecting the image on the world’s tallest building.

What exactly is compassion?

Compassion literally means “to suffer together”.  Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

The Dalai Lama says of compassion:  “If you want others to be happy practice compassion.  If you want to be happy practice compassion”.

 Three simple steps to foster compassion in your child

Act as a compassionate role model to your children and others

Your children, when they are young, will notice the larger compassionate acts you make such as volunteering your time for a worthy cause or going out of your way to look after your neighbour when they are sick.   As your children get older and begin to understand compassion better they will also notice your smaller expressions of compassion such as taking time out to comfort them when they’ve hurt themselves or supporting your partner by taking over their cleaning chores when they come home stressed from work.

Help your children create more awareness by asking compassion-related questions

When your child comes home from school with stories about their friends being hurt or upset ask them questions to create more awareness about the feelings the child involved will have experienced.  Ask them “How do you think they felt at the time?”   “What did the teacher or their friends or you do to help them?”  “How do you think they feel now?,  “Is there anything else you can do to help them feel better?”

Expand your child’s circle of concern and awareness of others

Harvard Graduate School of Education recommends you help your child create awareness of others around them by fostering a wider perspective of the world.   Teach your child how to zoom in so that they can tune in better to other people and their feelings and also teach them to zoom out, taking in multiple perspectives and people.  You can use newspaper or TV stories to start conversations with your child about other people’s challenges and difficult times or you can simply notice the different experiences of children in another country or community.

How do you foster compassion in your kids? Tell us in the comments below.

Anky Balfoort is an experienced positive parenting trainer and life coach with over 10 years’ experience and 15 positive parenting, positive psychology and life coaching related qualifications. She has helped many families and individuals achieve positive outcomes in life including improved family harmony and relationships, work/life balance, confidence and self-esteem. For more info visit: or


  • Great tips ! I agree that pets are a great way too.
    Think it’s in general very important to set the right example ourselves as parents and express compassion to others, inside and outside our own homes on the street in the shop etc.
    I’m a firm believer in teaching our kids to look out and reach out to others and we have regularly chats about “when you see someone sitting all alone at school, what do you do” ? “or when you see someone getting teased, do you laugh away or do you go to this person and wrap you arm around him/her”? or”how do you respond at the person you dislike and who is approaching you”?
    When my kids were younger we visited some lonely people in nursing homes, not for ourselves but for them. But by pleasing the other, it can something very precious for yourself too.

    • So true Ellen, all the things you do are what I recommend to parents who come and see me for positive parenting advice as well. Keep up the good work :-)


  • My bub is still small but I try explain what I’m doing and why with everything including when someone is sad so we’re doing x, y, z to make the feel better.

    • That’s perfect! Little ones don’t have prior knowledge about emotions so it’s great you’re pointing emotions out to her as you experience them.

      • Thank you good to you know we’re on the right path.


  • I think getting pets for small children is a great start to teaching them about compassion. Caring for and looking after a pet teaches kids lots of things

    • So true! That’s one of the practical ways I recommend to parents to help them raise their child’s resilience levels too. A pet can be such a calming influence when your child is upset or anxious.


  • Great tips. My little one is a bit young yet but I’ve been trying to teach her to hug other people when they are upset.

    • That’s another great way of teaching compassion :-).


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