March 5, 2010


Are you tired of hearing all about “me, me, me”, in conversations with friends and family? In these times of economic stress, it’s understandable for everyone to be focused on themselves. BUT, we know from past experiences, that thinking and caring about others goes a long way in balancing gloomy feelings and helps us feel hopeful. Learning to care can start as early as infancy.

Empathy & Compassion
Empathy & compassion are poignant words. Compassion is the awareness of another’s situation and a wish to make it better. Empathy is understanding another’s feelings and what that person is going through. It’s literately like "walking in someone else’s shoes". Children often try “walking in our shoes”, literally, to experience what that feels like. This is a simple form of empathy….especially when they try on women’s spiked heels with pointed toes…OUCH!

How do kids begin to display empathy and compassion? Infants respond to faces and sounds, so if you are sad, the infant may respond accordingly and also might giggle in response to a caregiver’s laugh. Toddlers may show empathy by trying to comfort a sibling or friend, who is crying or frightened…”Emily looks sad”. Many show their compassion by trying to be soothing, even if the adult is just pretending to be hurt or sad. School-age children can pick up spoken and unspoken signals of distress or sorrow and may respond with empathy: trying to comfort and take care of the adult, etc. Developing empathy and compassion starts at a young age, and hopefully continues to expand throughout our entire lives.

You ask: “What has all of this got to do with great/grandparenting?” Great/grandparents can see that some kids have these sensibilities, and others don’t. We can help stimulate these qualities through modeling…NOT clothes, but ACTIONS.

Case In Point
We can all recall someone from decades ago whose kindness we still remember. Many situations allow us to model compassion and empathy.

• You are in the market with your great/grandchild, and see a shorter person trying to get something off the top shelf. You can offer to help that person get the item. It’s as simple as that!!!

• There’s a campaign to help others in need (New Orleans, Haiti, Chile, flood, fire and/or neighbors in need). Choose something of value to YOU and put it in a donation box. Then ask your great/grandchild to pick a toy or something of THEIRS (from YOUR home, of course) to add to the collection. You’re giving something of importance and asking the children to do the same. If you don’t live close to your great/grandchildren, you can talk about this on the phone, skype, in the mail, and then pool the items to be sent.

• For children who have a piggy bank and/or older children who get allowances, suggest putting aside some amount of money, on a regular basis, that can then be sent off to others, as a donation. You might want to contribute to the fund, as well. This can be an ongoing project that you can do together, even if you don’t live in the same city.

All of these situations offer an opportunity to talk about compassion and empathy. Ask your great/grandchild how they would feel if they were “walking in the shoes” of others, and how they would offer to help out. Talk to them about how caring can be both concrete and emotional and how helping others can make you and the other person/people feel better.

Empathetic and compassionate children are more likely to be tolerant, open-minded adults!

In case you’re looking for interesting places to donate money with your great/grandchildren, where you will get feedback about your donation, might we suggest the following:

HEIFER INTERNATIONAL - Hiefer helps children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant. You can give small or large amounts (starting at $10). This is about giving the gift of self reliance to struggling people all over the world. Everyone deserves the dignity of providing for themselves and their families.

KIVA - KIVA links "micro-bankers" like you and me with screened "micro-preneurs" in the developing world (and now even in the U.S.). You can lend as little as $25 in capital to the Kiva applicant of your choice. When the money is paid back, you can withdraw your original investment, donate it to Kiva or lend it to another needy applicant. As of November 2009, Kiva has facilitated over $100 million in loans.

MOMSRISING.ORG Where moms and people who love them go to change our world. Working to build a nation where children, parents, and businesses thrive; and end discrimination against mothers. listens to members and focuses advocacy where they can most quickly improve family economic security. M.O.T.H.E.R.S stands for: Maternity & Paternity Leave; Open Flexible Work: TV & After School; Healthy Kids; Excellent Childcare: Realistic & Fair Wages; Sick Days, Paid.

SAVE THE CHILDREN – Creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. The priorities are to ensure that children in need grow up protected and safe, educated, healthy and well-nourished, and able to thrive in economically secure households. In 2009, the “Rewrite the Future” campaign reached more then 12 million children in conflict affected countries with access to improved education.


  1. Thank you so much for recommending us on your blog! We really appreciate it. I can tweet out this blog post to our ~7500 Twitter followers, as well.

    thanks again,

  2. Thanks, Anita
    We LOVE all that you do. Keep up the good work.