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Raising great kids doesn’t happen by accident. Whether parents are conscientiously aware of it or not, they are offering something that nurtures and sustains the innocence and beauty that every child is born with. One of the most admirable qualities that a human being can possess is the ability to be compassionate to others by way of empathy. Not to be confused with sympathy, empathy is the ability of one to connect and feel for the suffering of another without ever having gone through it personally. But how can parents instill this in their children?

Look in the Mirror

A parent can look into the mirror and see what their child loves, needs and learns from the most. This is where your child takes his or her direction from, so demonstrating empathy to your children is crucial—and not just for the lesson! If your child comes home from school and tells you that they had their feelings hurt or they were bullied, empathize with their situation. Drop whatever you’re doing and listen to them, hold their hand, ask questions and show a genuine interest in what wounded them and why.

As adults, our first instinct is to fix everything for our children, but sometimes they simply need an empathetic ear to express what is happening before they can move on to thoughts of problem solving. A child who grows up with parents who do this will naturally form the same caring interactions with others.

Don’t Protect Your Children

From everything, that is. Discussing issues in the world, especially those affecting children their age, can often have an emotional impact that stings their heart but drives them to compassion and uplifting action. Speaking about other children who have no clean water or food and asking your child if they would like to get involved in helping is an incredible gesture of empathy and compassion. Helping in food or clothing drives is exciting business for young ones and seeing the fruit of their labor is especially rewarding and subjects your children to other compassionate families, forging long-term friendships with like-minded people.

Extending Warmth

Compassion is a dish best served warm. Those suffering need warm understanding hearts to understand their position and at times even serve as advocates for their cause. Help your children create an awareness of things that may be going on around them. For instance, some of their classmates may be struggling with issues such as deportation while they want to stay in America. Teaching your child about issues that some families face in America and having resources for where to turn can offer hope to your child, their friends and encourage acts of compassion all involved will remember forever.

Non-Human Friends

There is something about the unconditional love of an animal that teaches children respect and empathy. Domesticated pets rely on their owners for care, which likens them in ways to children, the elderly and the disabled. Instilling in our children the value of being there for the vulnerable is empowering.

Raising kids with compassion and empathy is not a spectator sport. It takes good communication, action and lots of love. The payoff is greater than the effort though, and your children and the world will be a better place for it.