Posted by Candy on 28th May 2016
Kindness is an incredibly important virtue to have, today probably more so than ever before. Not just for the recipient of a kindness but for the giver as well. Research has shown that being kind to other people benefits the giver. It nurtures well-being, increases positive connections with peers, improves feelings of happiness, reduces bullying, enriches relationships and builds peace.Not just for adults but children can benefit from imparting acts of true kindness as well.
When children learn to be caring and kind, they also benefit developmentally. Well-liked children display more positive, less bullying behaviours when they become teenagers. Happier kids are more likely to show higher academic achievement. Being kind makes you feel good about yourself and improves your outlook on life.
Children are born to be givers. But by 4thgrade, research shows they are socialised to think more about themselves than others. How do we reverse this trend and create long-lasting habits of kindness?
One activity that can purposefully help to teach children to be kind are outlined in the following four steps:
1. Understand the Importance of Kindness
Learn about the benefits of giving for children and adults. There are many great resources on the internet that are free and easy to learn from. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website is a terrific place to start. They have classroom and home activities for children of all ages.
2. Create a Kindness Project
Devise an activity where your family or classroom records ONE act of kindness or ONE pleasant activity per day. You might call it your “Kindness Project” or “Happiness Diary.” These activities could include helping with dishes, letting someone else go first, taking care of an animal, going out of way the for a friend, hugging someone to make them feel better, etc. Or they might include visits to places and experiences that make us feel good, like visiting a favourite park or a grandparent’s house.
3. Take Time to Share
On a regular weekly basis, take time to share as a family or classroom. Rather than sharing everything in your diary, share the highlights of your week. Share enough so that everyone learns from each other’s acts of kindness and begins to understand the types of experiences that bring gratitude to life. Sharing encourages self-reflection and helps bring meaning to our actions.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
It may not be practical to keep up a routine where you are sharing from a diary on a regular basis. Reinforcement of the kindness habit comes with practice. But once children get into the habit, it’s easy to share from time to time.
Some other ways of teaching children to be kind are:
Having them help with care of a pet. Teaching a child to be kind to animals also promotes kindness towards others. Animals need to be taken care of, giving your child that responsibility will cultivate a very important learning opportunity.
Teaching them that everyone has a story. Maybe the mean girl at school is desperate for attention because she doesn't get any at home. Or, the kid that wears old sneakers to school does so because he doesn't have any other choice. Teach your kids to look at the behaviour of others and instead of judging, take a moment to think about the why's. When we remember that everyone comes fully loaded with a back story of their own, we're more likely to judge less and empathise more."
Realise they'll tend to copy your habit of saying "thank you.” Say thank you to them even when they are doing things that are expected and ordinary — when you are 12, sometimes the effort of putting the dish in the sink really is just too much. Tell them you appreciate it.
Lead by example. It's the most powerful tool you've got. When ACTIONS show kindness, then they see that too. When you make a meal for a family who has been ill or had a baby, they see that. When you volunteer to help out at school, they see that. You don't need to make a dramatic showing of being kind, or even talk about what you’re doing.
We do not treat people kindly for praise, we treat them kindly because that is how we treat people. And in doing so, we can teach and guide our own children to be kinder, and hopefully, we will participate in the creation of a kinder, more peaceful world, or at least, in our own family and neighbourhood and benefit by living more purposeful lives.