Teaching Compassion and Empathy to Young Children
Teaching children what compassion means is simple. It’s defined as the desire to help someone who’s in distress. Compassion, in other words, is a feeling and an act, and the best way to teach it is to put it into action.
At Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool we teach children through our actions. On a warm November afternoon, the teachers, children and families of the preschool celebrated the Empty Bowls Project. When a child contributes to their community and the world, they learn that small acts can have a big impact, and that, by giving, they can be part of something bigger than themselves. Compassion and Empathy were put into action on the preschool playground as the children and families shared a simple meal of noodles in clay bowls that the children had created in the Atelier. Donations were collected and parents had the opportunity to take their child’s clay bowl home. Over $7,500 has been donated to UMOM by the preschool children over the past 5 years due to their efforts in raising awareness of the homeless problem in Phoenix.
If we want our children to grow into compassionate young adults, start teaching him or her compassion and empathy early. Marilynn Price-Mitchell, PhD, compares building compassion to building muscles. “Children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically engaged adolescents and adults,” she says. Putting compassion into practice early on can set a precedent that lasts. “During the teen years, they reach deep within themselves, access these muscles, and develop social and civic identities that last a lifetime.”
One recent study suggests that the more compassion and empathy a child displays, the less likely they are to engage in bullying, online and in real life. Empathic children and adolescents are more likely to engage in positive social behaviors, like sharing or helping others.
We believe children are natural advocates and love making a positive impact on the world around them. The Empty Bowl Project is a small, yet powerful step in helping children feel empowered and confident in their ability to do good things and create change when confronted by life’s injustices. Hands-on experience makes volunteering more personal to children and instills in them the desire to help others. All we need to do as adults is get these children involved at an early age.