Compassion — seeing hurting people and doing what's in our power to help — is a virtue that most people would say they value. But in our fast-paced world, it's often the callous heart that gets the most obvious rewards. So how can we teach our children to value people more than they value accomplishments or other tangible rewards?

Why Teach Compassion?

For most of us, acting compassionately seems like the right thing to do. There's something that strikes against every nerve at the thought of walking away from someone who is hurting or in need, especially when we could help them. Since we want our kids to do what's right, we want them to learn compassion.

For some, it's a case of fair play. If we want people to be compassionate towards our hurts, weaknesses, and needs, we feel the need to have that same compassion towards others when we can. We don't want selfish children, so we want to teach them the same thing.

And for others, it has to do with the benefits of compassion, as shown by recent studies. Being compassionate lowers stress levels, raises immunity, helps us relax, lowers pain levels, lowers our chances of experiencing clinical anxiety and depression, and even helps us live longer. Clearly, seeing others' needs and responding to them is good for us physically and mentally, even if we don't buy the emotional or spiritual side of the equation.

How Can We Teach Compassion?

There are a million ways to teach kids to be compassionate. But one of the most powerful things we can do, as parents, is to live that way ourselves and let them see us doing it. As they get older, we can let them participate in our compassionate deeds, to help them walk the path we've laid before them.

One of the best practical ways we can do this is to sponsor a child in a poverty-stricken community in a third-world country. For a small amount — usually right around a dollar a day — you can help ensure that a child gets adequate water and nutrition, good medical care, and at least a basic education.

In exchange for your support, you'll receive various materials from your child. Usually, you'll get a photograph, a short description of the child's life and surroundings, and some background information on the geographic area where they live. Many of the organizations will even let you exchange letters with the sponsored child.

This is a great way to teach compassion because it makes the stories kids hear real. It gives poverty a face, and one that looks remarkably like their own. If you can sponsor a child that's close to your child's age, all the better. Help your child learn compassion by asking him or her what it must be like to be your sponsored child, what they would and wouldn't like about living that life instead of their own, and what they think the sponsored child would most want or need.

Many times, organizations that offer child sponsorship will also help you send gifts to your sponsored child. Your child can send small Christmas and birthday gifts, and you can talk about how those holidays might be different for someone who doesn't have as much money as your family does.

Concerns About Child Sponsorship

Some parents are concerned because they've only seen child sponsorship opportunities through faith-based organizations and don't want to support (or teach their kids to support) religious instruction that they don't believe in themselves. However, there are plenty of non-profit organizations that offer the chance to sponsor a child, so you don't have to choose one that's faith-based if you don't want to. If it's important to you to sponsor through an organization of a certain faith, that's fine, too.

Other parents have concerns about where exactly the money they give their sponsored child goes. Some organizations are careful to only connect each child with one sponsor and to use the money you send for that child, to help them get food, water, schooling, etc. Other non-profits are organized differently, so your sponsorship money will help the organization in general, funding their projects throughout the world.

If you want to know how your money is spent with a specific organization, don't hesitate to ask. All non-profits are given ratings in this area, and should publish how they spend your donations as well as the percentage of donations that go towards administrative costs vs. the percent used directly to help people.

Interested in Sponsoring a Child?

The following organizations offer child sponsorship on some level. Please note that I have not vetted any of these organizations beyond determining that they offer child sponsorship opportunities.

Faith-Based Organizations

Non Faith-Based Organizations

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