Compassion: 6 ways to teach compassion to your kids

A treasure awaits...

Compassion means feeling or sharing in the suffering of others.  The feeling of suffering, or the feeling of being victimized and the identification with those qualities is strongly creative, as powerful as our wishes and desires.  Because it creates our lives and moves us to act, usually in ways not associated with the thinking mind, compassion is part of the pantheon of sacral chakra powers.

There are many thoughts and beliefs about suffering. Children feel suffering and compassion for others to the same degree as adults.  In this lesson, let us suspend any preconceptions about suffering and play with the concept that suffering, whether ours or anothers, is a creative choice.  Not only that, suffering serves and delivers us very quickly to the jewel of our own being.  If someone brings to us and confides in us their suffering, this is also by our own design meant to unlock the treasure, the jewel our being. Compassion allows us to release that which afflicts, constricts, and blocks us and others from love, if only we know how to use it.

For me, compassion has two aspects.  The first is in feeling and taking on the suffering of others and the second is relieving it. How do we use compassion to relieve and release the suffering of the world and know love? We play.


Affirmation: I am so loved
Chakra activated: Sacral

Activity 1: Tell a story of great compassion

Stories are like touchstones, something the mind calls upon easily when searching for relief or solutions. While children still look to adults to help with their problems, we can give them story medicine. Story medicine lives on in the psyche, and arises when it is needed.

The Brave Little Parrot

A tale of great compassion for the child of any age is the Jataka tale The Brave Little Parrot.  Find it in full with interpretation and discussion on the National Storytelling Alliance for retelling or listen together to it on YouTube from Sumnima Theater:

Rafe Martin has also created The Brave Little Parrot as a beautiful book to enjoy again and again.  This was one my daughter asked to read continually for over a year.  Our version is from Buddha at Bedtime by Dharmachanri Nagaraja. It is still one of her favorites. I know that this story is medicine for her.

The story of Kwan Yin, the Compassionate One

I love to call on Kwan Yin during times of difficulty.  Because it is gory, her story is more appropriate for children over 8.  The story of Kwan Yin is medicine. Kwan Yin, also spelled Quan Yin and Guan Yin, has as many stories as she does arms.  This is the story of her childhood.

Miao Shan lived a long time ago and in a land far away and also very near. She was the third daughter of a powerful Emperor. She was different from her sisters. And although she was good at her studies, art, music and calligraphy, she was often slipping away to care for the poor, needy or heart broken. When she was missing, the royal guards would find her in the hospital or orphanage. She cared for animals and plants just as sincerely, never stepping on an ant, or breaking a branch as she walked tenderly and with great care. Her parents were not happy with her, especially her father the Emperor. He wanted her to marry into an important family to increase the riches and power of his Kingdom. He told her many times that she needed to be more like her sisters, and to not concern herself with the poor and sick. Her reply was always that she wanted to be a nun to dedicate her life to helping others. She asked so often that her father, The Emperor, sent her to her room and told her she could never leave. He kept her there under guard. 

When she came of the age to be married, her father had arranged for many suitors to visit. Miao Shan humbly told her parents that she would not marry, and again asked to become a nun. Her father was very, very angry. Since he had already tried locking her in her room for years, he consented. He said to her, "If you do not marry as I tell you, and decide to become a nun, then I will make your life very difficult. He told the nuns that they must never speak to her and must give her the hardest chores. The nuns did as they were commanded. Miao Shan carried water and chopped wood from morning til night. But just as had happened when she was locked in her room, the animals came to her aid. A tiger brought her chopped wood every morning, a dragon lit the fires, crickets scrubbed the pots and pans and a magic fish delivered the water. 

In short time, her father saw that she was thriving at the temple. In a rage, he ordered the temple to be burned to the ground. Guards surrounded the temple and the frightened nuns ran to Miao Shan and said, "This is all your fault. If you were not here, we would not suffer so." Miao Shan replied, "What you say is true." Moved by deep compassion and love, her tears flowed and saved all of the nuns, even as all the walls of the temples burned to the ground. She was now the Goddess Kwan Yin, meaning "Mother, one who hears all the sounds of the world." The Emperor believed his daughter was dead, and Kwan Yin went far away from the Kingdom.

Kwan Yin lived a simple life as a nun and was known far and wide for her compassion, kindness, and her ability to heal through love. People traveled far and wide to see her and be in her presence. To be in her presence freed one from their sadness and troubles. And out of her presence, the deep compassionate healing was like a balm that never left. Only to call on Kwan Yin again brought instant healing and happiness.

Many years passed. One day the Emperor became very ill from a terrible disease of the skin that caused him disgusting boils and blisters. All the best doctors in the kingdom were called to tend to him. They tried countless treatments but none could heal him. Finally, he met with an old wise hermit who told him there was one person who could cure him. She could only do this by making medicine by cutting off her arms and cutting out her eyes. Who would do such a thing, asked the Emperor? The hermit told him her name, Kwan Yin.

The Emperor had no idea that Kwan Yin was his daughter, Miao Shan. Kwan Yin lived on an island far away from the palace. After many months of travel, the Emperor arrived before Kwan Yin and recognized her immediately. He bowed low to the ground, placing his stomach and face and arms against the Earth. He never before had bowed before to anyone. His shame was so great for his cruel treatment of her. He cried with remorse and sadness, too ashamed to even speak. Kwan Yin immediately ran to him and lifted him up and gathered her in his arms despite his hideous appearance. "Father", she said, "I am so happy to see you! Let me help you."

With that she happily cut off her arms and cut out her eyes for the Emperor's cure. The Emperor tried to stop her, finally finding his voice and begging her forgiveness for what he had done to her. She only laughed and with a joyful heart sang, "It is you that give me the gift." With that, 1000 arms grew from where her arms had once been and 1000 eyes grew from where her eyes had once been. She glowed with a luminosity of 1000 candles and the heavens opened to receive her. She opened all of her 1000 arms and looked with all of her 1000 eyes, and said to the heavens, "I will remain here on Earth and continue to relieve suffering." And so she did. You may be lucky one day to see her. She has many forms. She is the mother of 1000 faces. Sometimes she is a young child, sometimes a woman, sometimes an old woman, and sometimes she is the Earth itself. Have you ever seen and felt Kwan Yin?

A rich version of this same story, which I draw from heavily in this one for children can be found in Changing Woman and Her Sisters by Katrin Hyman Tchana.

Activity 2: Chant

Om Mane Padme Hum is the mantra associated with Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion.  It is the jewel in the lotus, a rich metaphor that symbolizes the journey of the human soul.  Just as the beautiful lotus grows out of the mud, at the heart of the suffering of existence, there is the jewel of enlightenment.  When we understand that suffering is the home of the jewel, we can rejoice and welcome it.  When that happens, suffering doesn't exist.  We have erased it.  We become Kwan Yin.

Kids love mantra, anytime, anywhere (see my post Mantra is for Kids).  This version is especially calming and relaxing to the worried or sleepless child.

Activity 3: Open the heart with animal poses

Like Kwan Yin and the Brave Little Parrot, we can open our hearts and receive the love of the Universe.  Make opening the heart fun by acting out these animal yoga poses. These poses especially help to unblock the heart and let love in.

Cobra Pose
Lie on your stomach.  Gently push up with your arms keeping the hips on the floor, arching the back slightly and opening the chest.  Keep the neck in line with the chest.  Do a modified form of this pose by just coming up to the elbows.

Camel Pose
While on your knees, bend backwards and grab your ankles with your hands.  Keep your neck comfortably in line with your torso.

Cat and Cow Pose
On your hands and knees arch up like a hissing cat.  Tuck your chin against your chest.  Alternate with cow pose by dropping the back and pushing the belly to the floor.  Look up to the ceiling.  Gently roll back and forth between these two poses.  Breath in for Cat, Breath out for Cow.

Fish Pose
From a flat position, lying on your back, legs straight, roll your head so that your crown is on the ground. This pushes your chest upward and brings the elbows along the floor toward the shoulders. Keeping the hands against the floor, rest some of your weight on your arms.  Rest the top of the head on the floor, chin to the sky.

Activity 4: Ho'oponopono for Kids

Ho'oponopono is a releasing and cleansing technique from the ancient Hawaiian spiritual tradition.  It is a practice in compassion. It was brought to the West by Dr. Hew Lin and Dr. Joe Vitale.  Its tricky to introduce to kids in a way that they can understand.  It is a deep spiritual practice and if not introduced well, it can make them feel like they are apologizing for something wrong with them.  It can feel like that for some adults too.  This is not what we want kids to feel or get from this practice.  

There are 4 phrases in the Ho'oponopono prayer:
  • I'm sorry
  • Please forgive me
  • Thank you
  • I love you
Who are we talking to?

I told this story to my young daughter recently about a Dolphin.

Dolphin left his family because he wasn't loved. At least that was his belief. He knew he was not lovable because he was not the best swimmer, the best spinner, the best jumper, or the smartest or the most beautiful. There were a million reasons why he was not lovable. He could list them all. 

At first leaving the pod was a relief. He no longer thought about how he wasn't a good and important dolphin. But very soon he found being on his own was hard too. Even though he didn't speak to anyone, he was having the same kinds of beliefs about the thoughts of all the other animals of the ocean. 

He believed Squid thought Dolphin's flippers were useless, Tuna was surely thinking that Dolphin was slow and he believed Whale thought Dolphin was too tiny to matter at all and so on, until he met wise sea turtle. 

Turtle spoke to him about that which he couldn't see, that which surrounded him, kept him alive, never left him, bathed him and sustained him- Ocean. And Ocean loved him, no matter what. Dolphin felt the love in and through all of his being and it took away instantly all his old beliefs and even just stopped his mind from thinking anything at all! In joyful, delighted, ecstatic response he called out to Ocean and to HIMSELF for the very first time, "I"m sorry! Please forgive me! Thank you! I LOVE YOU!" With that, Dolphin said farewell to Turtle and returned and lived happily with his family. And for the first time and forever after, felt all the love they had for him that had always been there all along.

How often have we blocked love in by false beliefs?  How have we created our own suffering and affirmed the suffering in others because of our beliefs? Did you know that we are swimming in an ocean of love and all we had to do was breathe it in?

Play the What If game...

It goes like this: What if we were surrounded by compassionate beings, like Kwan Yin, Mother Mary, Green Tara, Isis, Mother Earth and Lakshmi, not to mention angels and ancestors that love us, watch out for us, guide and deliver us and all others from suffering? What if there is only ONE, and this ONE created us perfect in every way?

How would that feel?
Where is that feeling in your body?
What color is it?
Let's draw being perfect in every way.

Suspend "reality" and explore and play with this concept in as many ways as you like with your child. It is from the truth of this understanding that we can say the words: I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. This is to the one being us and all things, for ourselves and for everyone who suffers. We release and let go of suffering.

Activity 5: Release suffering through Affirmative Prayer

Ask for help and let yourself be helped and guided. A wise friend said it to me like this, in her usual, unforgettable style, "There are a lot of out-of-work angels." In affirmative prayer with kids, the final step is to release and let go of our prayer (see my post Affirmative Prayer with Kids).  When we do this, we bend forward, head to the ground and swing our bodies down to the Earth, sweeping the ground with our hands, releasing all of our troubles, the burdens of our mistaken beliefs.

I also like and use these two prayers with children:

Morning Prayer
I am grateful for this new day,
I am grateful You are in everyone
Today what I think is important
All that I do is important
All that I say is important.
I am important to my school, to my family. I am important to the Universe.
I expect good in my life today,
And I am grateful and happy.
(from The Joy of Affirmative Prayer by Reverend Nancy Zala)

You are the beloved of the Universe
You are as beautiful as the Sunrise and as ancient as the stars
You are the spark of divine love in human form
Through you goodness and light flow into this world.
 Bless you.
(author unknown)

Activity 6: Good to Be Alive

Isn't this dance of life amazing?  Again, a whole lesson in a song.  Sing it again and again to lay tracks deep in the psyche.

by Meghan Trainor

I ain't tryna think about all my problems
I'm living now, I'm living now (Hey)
I can't sit and worry about the future
I'm living now, I said I'm living now

So put your hands up if you feel like having a good time
Put your hands up if you got no cares at all
Raise your cups if you got no work tomorrow
Put your hands up if you're ready to have some fun
Come on, sing

Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh
Oh, it feels so good to be alive (Don't it feel good? Come on)
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh
Oh, it feels so good to be alive (Come on)

Gonna wake up every day like it's Christmas
Gonna celebrate this life I'm given
From now on (From now on)
Gonna tell my mother every day I love her
And tell her, "Thanks for being such a good mother"
From now on


Feels good, don't it?
Living your life in this great moment
And you never ever think it's gonna go away, but I swear
I know you'll wake up one day and say
Yeah, I got things to do
Yeah, I got mountains to move
And it ain't about how sad it could be
It's about how good it should be

Feels good, don't it? Feels good, don't it?
You only got one life; live in the moment
Feels good, don't it? Feels good, don't it?
You only got one life; live in the moment
Feels good, don't it? Feels good, don't it?
You only got one life; live in the moment
Feels good, don't it? Feels good, don't it?
You only got one life; live in the moment (Come on, sing it)

[Chorus] X3


Many thanks to my supporters for sponsoring this lesson!

Photo credits

Kwan Yin in landscape- IMBGX2
Eye- Alexas_Fotos
Kwan Yin statue close up- smirnov27
Cobra- Michael Kleinsasser
Camel- TheDigitalArtist
Cat and cow - Chris Birk
Fish - Pexels
Girl riding dolphin - Stefan Keller


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