Raising Kind Kids
"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can." - John Wesley
The Importance of Kindness
In countless conversations, parents have expressed to me that besides wanting their child to be academically successful, above all else, thay want their child to be happy and surrounded by good friends. So, how do we help our children achieve that goal? I can tell you from both personal experience and research, most importantly, teaching your children to be kind human beings, will naturally get you closer to that end result. Sure you can make play dates for your children, sign them up in all sorts of activities, or request that your child be placed with their favorite teacher, but nothing will increase your child's happiness as much as teaching them to be kind (and grateful...these two things seem to go hand in hand). For example, one research study in 2012 called "Kindness Counts", showed the benefits of tweens when they were taught strategies to increase their happiness through acts of kindness. For thirty days, several hundred 9 to 11 year old children performed and recorded three acts of kindness each week for anyone they chose. Another several hundred kept weekly track of three pleasant places they visited (almost like a gratitude journal). For both of these groups their happiness quotient increased. But those who performed acts of kindness received an added bonus. The study showed that they gained an average of more than one friend during that month long period. In a sense, these acts of kindness nurtured their well being as well as increased their positive connections with peers.
In countless other studies, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and even a longer life. An article on Mindful.org, explains, "thinking about, observing, or practicing a kind act stimulates the vagus nerve and the soothing hormone found in maternal bonding, which literally warms up the heart, and may be closely connected to the brain's receptor networks for oxytocin. Kindness also triggers the reward system in our brain's emotional regulation center releasing dopamine, the hormone that's associated with positive sensation of a natural high." In everyday life, it's easy to see that connection. Just come to the Seaman School on Positive Post-it Day to see the abundance of happiness. This is a day when students and staff take time out of their day to write down positive and encouraging words on post-its and paste them on each other's desk, doors, and notebooks. This day leads much empirical support for the phrase, "The more you give, the more you get".
Although It sounds simple, there are many things that get in the way of kind behavior. The distraction of everyday life is a major factor. We are all so busy rushing from one activity to another. Even as adults, we may get too wrapped up in our own concerns to pay close attention to the needs of others and actively seek out opportunities to help. Especially for children, kindness seems to take a back seat when their own negative emotions become overwhelming. Many children also have a hard time putting themselves in someone else's shoes and therefore have difficulty understanding how someone else might feel. Children also tend to miss the bigger picture. They may not realize the full effects of what their comments (good or bad) and behaviors (inclusion or exclusion) can have on others. Furthermore, social media can invite criticism instead of kindness. Online photos can get instant and anonymous comments from total strangers, with reactions that can be extremely unkind.
The good news is that kids are naturally hard wired to have empathy for others and want to help out. Parents and teachers can take advantage of these natural instincts and encourage kids to think about other people's feelings before they act and teach them how to practice kindness in their everyday lives. Kindness takes practice and that's the bottom line. It's like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use.
Everyday Tips - Cultivating Kindness
Here are some tips to cultivate kindness in your children:
1. Have Children Volunteer - When your child volunteers to do a good deed for others, they learn to think about the needs of others and they can experience the feeling of pride by making a difference in someone else's life. Have your child clean up sidewalks, take care of another family's pet while on vacation, collect a donation (food or money) for local charities, or have your child shovel for elderly neighbors that can't get out.
2. Independent Giving - Let children experience the joy of giving independently. If the school is collecting a donation, let them use their own money. If it's a donation that you have to go shopping for, take them with you instead of buying the items while they are at school or otherwise occupied. Let them "feel" the power of giving instead of just being the middle man.
3. Expand Your Child's Circle of Concern - Children always care about their closest circle of family and friends. The challenge is to help them care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in their class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or someone who lives in a distant country. Children need to learn to see the bigger perspective of how their actions can effect the larger world.
4.Use Daily Teachable Moments and Experiences - Share stories about kindness using real life examples from a newspaper, T.V., or personal experience. Point out acts of injustice they may witness and talk about ways to remediate them so that people are treated fairly. You can use books and movies to point out examples of kindness and the effects of kindness on others as well as the effect on the person who performed the kind act.
5. Detach Kindness from External Rewards - Don't offer incentives or external rewards, let kindness be the reward itself. The joy that can be felt with the heart is truly priceless. Kindness should be naturally praised as enthusiastically as getting good grades or excelling in sports.
6. Teach Perspective-taking - Help your child to understand that another's feelings or thoughts may be different than their own. Practice with story book characters or real life events where people think differently about different situations. When a conflict occurs with your child's friend, before calling that child's parent or the school, ask them if they can imagine what their friend is thinking or feeling so that a positive resolution can be reached.
7. Make "The Kindness Challenge" a Way of Life - This year, the Oceanside School District challenged Mrs. Sherman and the Seaman School to perform as many random acts of kindness as possible in one week (See The Great Kindness Challenge, http://www.greatkindnesschallenge.org). The students at Seaman performed over 8,000 acts of kindness and then challenged three other elementary schools to do the same. But, the bigger challenge is to keep it going. Challenge yourself and your children to perform random acts of kindness, every day, no matter how small. The more yous strengthen that kindness muscle, the bigger and better it gets!
8. Teach Your Child to be Polite and Respectful - Being kind means treating everyone with equal respect. Make sure your child greets all people equally and respectfully, whether it's the Principal of the school, the bus driver, the wait staff, or clerk at the check out counter. Make sure your child is also respectful when they win or lose a game. There is much to be said for a gracious winner as much as a gracious loser.
9. Model Kindness Everywhere - Children pay very close attention to your behavior. Do you speak to your own child with kindness, even when you're angry? Do you use kind words with your spouse? Do you gossip about others in the presence of your child? When was the last time you complimented the pizza delivery guy or a stranger that you met? Your child is watching and observing everything you do and will most likely simulate these behaviors. Make sure they see kindness EVERYWHERE.
10. Practice Gratitude - Kindness and gratitude go hand in hand. Have your child write out their own thank you cards and keep a gratitude jar or journal. When one is grateful in one's own life, one is more likely to show kindness towards others.
Loving-Kindness Meditations for Children
Loving-kindness is a meditation focused on nurturing compassion, kindness, goodwill, and love for oneself and others. While the loving-kindness meditation originates in Buddhist traditions, it’s now practiced widely across cultures. It is generally felt that these practices help children feel a greater sense of well-being and connectedness with others and the world around them. Here's one example of a loving kindness meditation:
Have your child bring to mind someone they’d like to extend feelings of kindness, love, and goodness toward. This may be someone dear to them, an acquaintance, someone with whom they have difficulty, a stranger, or even themselves. Many children find it easier to begin with someone they love, and later practice kindness toward people they feel neutral toward or even dislike. Silently or softly aloud have your child repeat the following phrases (or use words that feel right to them), so they can feel them in their heart.
May I/you be safe.
May I/you be healthy and strong.
May I/you be free from worry/fear/anger
May I/you be happy.
May I/you be peaceful and at ease.
Read About It
Some kind books to slip into your household reading list.
Koi and the Kola Nuts: A Tale from Liberia by Verna Aardema.
A retelling of an African folk tale, Koi has nothing but kola nuts, but gives them away and receives love and generosity in return.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
This simple story about a boy and a tree can spark discussions about giving, taking and loving.
The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story by Judy Sierra.
This version of the Cinderella tale sees Damura finding acceptance by being kind to animals.
The Giant Hug by Sandra Horning.
Owen the pig wants to give his granny a hug, but she lives so far away that he has to send it through the mail. The book follows Owen's hug as it travels across the country in a series of funny, always heartfelt embraces between animals of different shapes and sizes.
Teachers are Terrific by Golden Books
The wonderful Precious Moments characters teach toddlers to be nice! This book reinforces the joy of learning while encouraging young children to respect and listen to their teachers.
The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau.
A quilt maker agrees to give a greedy king one of her coveted quilts - but only if he gives away his material possessions. When he does, he gets happiness as well as his prize.
The Paper Crane by Molly Bang.
A restaurant owner and son give a poor man a fine meal and get a simple gift in return. The gift becomes so much more in time.
Smoky Night by Eve Bunting.
It's the night of the Los Angeles riots, and a group of neighbors are brought together to learn important lessons from the upheaval.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
A classic full of generosity, including the March girls giving away Christmas breakfast to a poor family.
Pay it Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde.
The movie was based on this book about a 12-year-old boy who takes an extra credit social studies assignment to think of a way to make the world a better place and turns it into a nation-wide movement.
Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents by Sarah Conover.
Thirty-one Buddhist tales teaching respect, kindness and generosity that will also expose your child to a different religious tradition.
The Acorn People by Ron Jones.
A camp counselor is overwhelmed at the prospect of working with disabled children, until he meets his campers - The Acorn People. These are a group of kids who teach him that, inside, they are the same as any average kid, and with encouragement, determination, and friendship, nothing is impossible.