What inspires children to act compassionately? Our research team explored this question in partnership with Universidad de San Francisco de Quito and a bilingual preK- 12 school in Ecuador. We interviewed preschoolers, 4th graders, 7th graders, and 10th graders about compassion, and then analyzed the interview data using qualitative analysis to explore how compassion arises. Results suggest that the students at this school go through four cyclic stages of compassion: the recognition of another person’s suffering; the evaluation of whether the person deserves compassion; the choice to take a compassionate action to relieve the person’s suffering; and the interpretation of the experience of being compassionate. With this understanding, educators can support students to move through each stage  – teaching them recognize suffering, evaluate situations empathetically, choose actions that help relieve suffering, and reflect on their experiences. As students move through the stages of compassion, it leads to positive feelings that sustain an unfolding of continued compassion. As one young student perceptively explains, “Everyone deserves love or compassion. It’s helping you, it’s helping the one who needs the care, and you feel good.”

Compassion Spiral