The empathy of a child: A story of compassion

Being a dad is the hardest thing I’ve done. But sometimes there’s moments where it all becomes worth it.

And sometimes those moments break your heart.

11900110_10155961394055052_4008482556797851194_oEthan started kindergarten this week. When I arrived home from work, we were sitting at the dinner table and the following conversation ensued.

“Ethan. How was school?” I asked

“Not good.”


“Ryan punched me?”

My kid? Bullied? My papa bear instincts kicked in, tempered with some suspicion. What did Ethan do? If it’s anything like his interactions with his brother, he must have done something.

“Really?” I said. “Why did he punch you?”

“I don’t know. He also made fun of me.”

I shook my head, making a mental note to make sure something was done about this.

But….I forgot. Oops.

Friday rolls around…

“Ethan,” I said. “How was school.”

“Somebody’s dad died.”

I dropped my fork on my dinner plate. “Really? A student?”

He nodded his head. But this kid was acting silly, so I assumed he was joking (as he’s wont to do). But he wasn’t joking. It was a mask, hiding something that probably troubled him more than I could know.

Later that night…

“Ethan,” I said, “tell me about your day.”

“It was good.”

“Did that one kid punch you?”

“Ryan? No. He’s my friend now. I want him to come over.”

Okay…so maybe it was nothing. Kids are kids, kids forgive, kids forget, right?

No. This wasn’t typical kids-being-kids behavior.

It wasn’t until Saturday that we figured out what happened. Here’s a timeline…

Thursday: Ryan bullies Ethan.

Thursday: Ryan’s dad dies.

Friday: Ethan asks if Ryan can come over to play.

I began writing this post yesterday afternoon. When I got about here, I thought this isn’t over. There’s another conversation I need to have.

I decided I’d talk to Ethan and see if I could melt his goofy facade and see what was really going on in the little guy’s head. We sat by the playground of the elementary school while Amber visited with my oldest’s teacher. Ethan walked in circles, carrying his stack of Yugioh cards.

“Who’d you play with today?” I asked.


“Is that the kid who punched you?”

Ethan paced and paced in a circle, maintaining a chipper tone. “Nope. That was Ryan.”

“Is Ryan still punching you?”

“No,” he said. “Ryan’s dad died.” His tone almost sounded flippant, like this man’s death was a joke.

Round and round and round he walked, chasing his shadow.

“Ethan?” I said.

Walk walk walk.


I grabbed his wrist. “Ethan? Are you okay?”

He cocked his head.

A story of compassion“Are you sad about Ryan’s dad?”

The facade melted and he dropped into my lap, sobbing.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked.

“I don’t wanna talk about it?”

“Are you scared mommy and daddy will die?”

He shook his head.

“Are you sad for Ryan?” I asked.

He wailed. “Yeah.”

My own eyes glistened.

“Can we not talk about it anymore?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said. “But I want to tell you something.”

He looked at me, his bluish-green eyes stained with streaks of red.

“I’m proud of you,” I said. “You’re a good boy. Thank you for wanting to help him.”

“Can I go play now?”

“You can go play.”

With time, the emotions distanced themselves from my sweet boy. His chipper voice returned and while we dribbled a worn rubber basketball, he shared with me his ideas on how we can help Ryan:

We should tell him he’s gonna see his daddy again. And if he doesn’t go to church, we should tell him to come to ours.

Maybe we can read scriptures to him. Or give him his own scriptures.

We can invite him to play

Thank you, my sweet boy. Thank you for having a tender heart. I know it hurts to care; it hurts me to watch you care.

But I’m proud of you.

There’s two things I’m gonna ask of you, fare audience of mine. First, go hug your kids. Go hug your parents. Call your brother, your sister. I hope it’s not the last time you see or speak to them, but if it is, you’ll be glad you did.

And second…please pray for Ryan’s family. Yes, I’ve used a fictitious name to protect the family’s identity. But I’m sure God can sort out the details. Pray for peace. Pray for comfort. Pray for healing.

How about all of you? Do you ever wonder what deep emotions they hide in their little heads? How have you broken the barriers?


13 thoughts on “The empathy of a child: A story of compassion

  1. I love how you write. I’ve read this already so I was just going to comment, but I was captivated by the story again.

    I find something that helps me is to behold my children– not just look in the general direction, but to really gaze jnto their eyes and look at all the tiny features, the freckles and eye brows, all of it. If you do it long enough your heart starts to glow. ❀️

    • Good call. I think that’s what did it at this point was stopping him, looking into his eyes, and asking “Are you okay?” Sometimes we gotta take a break from the mundane to really look at our kids.


  2. My Aj uses humor to hide his emotions, I understand it well because I do it too. He has a lot of pain covered up becz he does not have his father in his life in a positive manner & will be extremely blunt about his fathers behaviors & what kind of “man” he is. We teach our children compassion by giving it to them ourselves. Sometimes I have to use his bluntness to get him to open up & let him know its OK to feel however he wants to feel, even if those feelings go against what everyone else thinks is right. We dont always have to like our parents, we can dislike them & their actions. Teaches them security and self confidence as well as self esteem. ?

    • Let me quote you: “We teach our children compassion by giving it to them ourselves.”

      Love it. Maybe when we show them we can open up, they will feel comfortable doing it too. That’s the wonderful thing about our homes–they’re a safe place for our kids to express those things (or they should be).

  3. You sure have a way with words! I love reading your entries! Please keep writing and helping me learn to understand myself and those around me. Also, I am sad for this boy, and he is lucky to have a friend like Ethan!

  4. This is my favorite post because it tackles about knowing what your children’s thoughts are.

    Your son is such a sweet and kindhearted boy. He’s surely growing up into a fine man.

    And you’re also a good father.

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