Compassion & Empathy

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‘Encouraging children to be courageous and kind’ is Hero in my Hood’s tagline, our brand slogan.

I was surprised to discover that this is not a given with all children; courage and kindness is learned, and children need to be taught to understand feelings and emotions.

The Freestyle Stars, a story activity book that deals with bullying, focuses on feelings and how we express them.

In a fun activity, children are encouraged to pass their feeling to the next person. They are also informed that they do not have to accept the feeling being passed to them.

In teaching children about feelings, we also need to help them manage how they react to their feelings. This forms part of Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

The knowledge that we all share similar feelings, allows us to experience empathy. Empathy is an awareness of another person’s emotion, and an attempt to understand how they feel. It involves having a similar emotional response. 

Compassion, on the other hand, takes that empathetic response a step further, and is motivated to help or take action to assist in alleviating distress or suffering.

So, in effect we are not only encouraging empathy, but also compassion.

Should a child see a person or animal in distress, and feel empathy for them, that in itself can be traumatising. Encouraging them to understand that sometimes, merely being present and empathetic helps. Compassion need not include superhuman acts, sometimes a kind word or deed is enough to make a difference.

And knowing that they can make a difference will boost their own feelings of worth and self-esteem.

A healthy, well-functioning community needs people with compassion.

See how we approached the topic of compassion in three different story activity books…

COMPASSION for others: Freestyle Stars

Billy wants ‘in’ with the freestyle soccer kids on the block. His ball-skills are pathetic and he is ridiculed. Feelings of worthlessness turn to anger, and he bullies the very children he would like to have as friends.

Through Ronnie, Billy discovers that he is good at drumming and can hold a beat. When Khwezi, our freestyle star, loses her rhythm, he steps in and helps out. Everyone is impressed.

His act of compassion saved the day, making him feel good about himself, restoring his confidence and being included in the freestyle soccer group. Had he just stood by and looked on, the empathy he had felt for Khwezi in her time of need would have worried him.

One hopes that the children working through this story activity book will learn that empathy and compassion go hand-in-hand.

COMPASSION for animals: Lucky

Thandi and Jongi find a puppy on a rubbish heap. Thandi’s heart goes out to this small creature and she wants to help. Together with Nomfundo, they take Lucky to the animal clinic and shelter.

On this adventure the children discover that animals also have feelings. They learn about caring for a dog. There is a notice at the clinic and they track down Ronnie, Lucky’s owner, and reunite the two.

While working through this story activity book children will see that Thandi felt empathy for a small lost dog. Had she just left him there, Thandi’s feeling of empathy would have made her sad. Instead, she took action – compassion – to help find his home.

Lucky was delighted to see Ronnie. Ronnie was relieved and happy to have Lucky back. Thandi, Jongi and Nomfundo felt good about themselves, as they had helped and were appreciated.

Win-win all round!


COMPASSION for the environment: Our Plastic Pollution

In this story activity book we aim to encourage children to feel empathy towards our lovely planet –and the compassion shown as the children clean the beach, is valid.

Again, both the recipient – the beach, in this case – and the givers – the kids – are rewarded: the beach is cleaned, maintained and appreciated, and the children share warm, fuzzy feelings of contentment.

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