Modeling Compassion in Families

December 20, 2022

How can we model compassion? It’s not enough to just be compassionate with your children; if you want them to learn how to be compassionate, you must model it in how you live your life on a daily basis. Our team of clinicians has put together some great suggestions on how to model compassion in your family.

Tiffaney Knight, Resident in Counseling 

Modeling compassion in families proves to be the most challenging when a person is exhibiting not-so-pleasant behaviors. It requires family members to show grace when a person may be at their lowest moments. Compassion involves the act of showing sympathy or concern for the misfortune of others. It requires looking past their actions and still choosing to show them love. Showing compassion is a skill everyone could use to be a better human being and what better place to start than at home with your family.

Amy Andrukonis, Supervisee in Clinical Social Work

If you’re a parent of a young child, the holiday season can present challenges. Lots of this is due to (often unspoken) expectations we have about the season. Children often dream of total bliss, favorite foods, zero sleep, and receiving every single gift they asked for. Adults often dream of sweet, cozy holidays where everyone in the family feels loving and happy, and grateful, and every meaningful tradition from our own childhoods is honored but somehow we don’t feel exhausted or overwhelmed by the superhuman efforts required to pull the whole thing off. Oh, and we should all feel EXTRA compassionate and charitable toward our neighbors around the holiday season. Needless to say, if your child seems to feel more grouchy and envious than compassionate and grateful this holiday season – never fear. In a way, we’ve all been set up to fail during the holiday season, and it would be helpful to take some of the moral pressure off our kids.

Of course, we hope our children will become compassionate people. The best way to raise a compassionate child is to model compassion year-round – not just during the holiday season. My favorite way to do this is by “empathizing out loud” within earshot of the child. I might say, “our cashier seemed to be feeling frustrated…I wonder what may have been going on for her today?” “It seemed like Leo was really upset at the park….I noticed him pushing and grabbing….what do you think happened to make him feel so angry?”

Modeling compassion means respecting the feelings and experiences of other people… which includes your child, whose developmental phase, marketing-fueled expectations, and totally typical human emotions might lead to some meltdowns this season. Trust the process – your child is motivated to become a compassionate person, and with time, they will – not because of some holiday hack, but because of your steady, year-round modeling.

One practical, holiday-themed tip? Let your child overhear you making or planning a donation to an organization you care about. Ask them if they’d like a small amount of money to go towards an organization they care about, too, and help them find one that aligns with their values.

Lydia Hatcher, Resident in Counseling 

People often think that compassion and empathy are the same things. I have always believed that empathy is a feeling, and that compassion is an action. I also believe compassion is born from empathy. Both are very necessary and must be modeled, especially in the family. The family is the training ground for building traits and qualities that will serve each member when they leave the home, and journey into the world. Family is the foundation for the most important learning, IN MY OPINION.

I remember when my children were younger and one of the four of them would cry or get hurt, my response to whichever child was crying would automatically draw the attention of the other children. This was usually followed by serious looks of concern, “awws’s” and “oh no’s”, and even the sad faces of the children as they attempted to comfort their sibling. I also remember times as a child myself, seeing my parents or siblings going through something difficult, and me feeling bad or sad along with them. Even if I did not know what exactly it was, I was sad about it. I remember the hugs that seemed to always make things better, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. The feeling that caused those “awww’s” and “oh no’s” are what I believe are empathy. The hugs that followed are what I believe are compassion.

In thinking about an effective way to explain compassion, I realized that the more compassion is practiced, the more it grows into what I believe is a part of who one is/becomes.

Compassion is a necessary ingredient for a kinder, more understanding world.

Wedad Omer, Resident in Counseling 

It’s easy practicing compassion towards others, but being self-compassionate is the real challenge. Compassion presents unconditional kindness.

One way for parents to model compassion is to be self-compassionate out loud. Positive self-talk is a great way for children to understand how to be empathetic with themselves and others. Using phrases like, “I did my best today,” “It’s okay to make mistakes and forgive myself,” or “I am not alone,” are great ways to demonstrate self-compassion.


Miguel Alcantara, Resident in Counseling

When the word compassion is used in conversation, most of the time it is centered around helping the less fortunate and being there to support them in times of need. The same conversation can/should be had in the home within the family. Being there to support family members through tumultuous times shows a strong familial bond and is seen as a demonstration of love.

Acts of compassion within the family can be shown in different ways, like acknowledging when a sibling or parent wasn’t being the nicest and instead of saying ” Mom is being so mean right now!”, taking the time and stepping back to think, “Mom seems to be struggling with something because she snapped at me and that’s not like her”.

Expressing to a family member that you recognize their struggle while having sympathy for their situation, is one of the many ways to model compassion in families.

Until next time, Be Wise!