How can you teach children to be compassionate?

A few months ago my friend came to visit. In between our chats on feminism and international development, I started to extol the virtues of having children. Saying, “It’s quite possibly the greatest social justice impact you can have in the world, to raise compassionate children.”

My friend paused to consider my fairly outrageous claim and asked, “What are you doing to make your girls compassionate?”

Her question left me stumped. How do I teach compassion to my 3 year old? I gave a fumbled answer and she politely moved the conversation on.

My friend’s question outlasted her visit. It’s been food for thought as I’ve examined my parenting habits. Children don’t become compassionate without influence. I believe that as humans our default setting is not altruism but selfishness.

A few weeks later I added some items to our online grocery shop. With Christmas coming round I bought more packets of stuffing, gravy granules and chocolate coins than we could possibly eat- I had a plan. On the next quiet afternoon, I sat Miss F down at our dining table and she stuck Christmas stickers onto the labels of the golden chocolate coins. I’m not sure if it’s acceptable to put stickers on foodbank items but I wanted to use this a teaching moment for our 3 year old.

Obviously she wanted to eat the coins but I explained how there are children who won’t be bought yummy coins so we were making sure they had some this Christmas. She didn’t look totally convinced until I reassured her not to worry, that she’d be getting chocolate coins too.

It was a simple moment, one she probably won’t remember but as I packed up the various items my friend’s challenge came into my head, “What are you doing to make your girls compassionate?” Now I have an answer- “This”.


  1. Joe says:

    Thanks Katie – short and sweet, helpful and honest!

    I do quite a bit of work with the foodbank here in Bournemouth, such a good cause 🙂

    1. Deb says:

      I was interested to see just what compassion is. I think that you and Edd tick a lot of these boxes with Felicity.
      I also, like You, believe that we are hard wired to be selfish, (think it’s a self preservation thing) but as Christians we are ‘works in progress’ and the best way to support each other is alway by good example I guess and that’s definitely the best way to teach a child in my opinion. Monkey see, 🐒 do. xxxx

      1. theologybee says:

        Thanks for this Deb. You’re so right. Children can see through if you are teaching “do what I say, not what I do”
        We are trying our best!

    2. theologybee says:

      Thanks Joe! I am learning that so much of parenting is taking the moment and using to it teach rather than planning ahead.

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