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Helping Kids Catch Kindness

November 13, 2021

There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” 

~Mr. Rogers

Research tells us that acts of kindness release hormones that contribute to your mood and well-being. 

When you perform an act of kindness, you are not only connecting with someone who welcomes this kindness, but you are also lifting yourself and your own happiness. Kindness, in fact, makes us happy. It can fill us with a sense of pride and allow us to feel better about ourselves and even about our world. This is our brain chemistry telling us “You did good, keep it up,” releasing feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine into our systems elevating our mood, relieving stress, helping with anxiety and physical pain.

brainDr. Traci Baxley points out in a New York Times interview, for children who have experienced so much and have had difficulty adjusting back into school and social situations, “Just seeing compassion and kindness in action releases chemicals in the brain that helps them calm down.... It slows the heart rate and releases serotonin that counters symptoms of depression.” and that we have “ obligation to teach our children to stand up and be allies for groups that are marginalized and silenced.” But to have a lasting effect, we need to constantly practice kindness. We need to spread kindness. In so doing we are helping to pass on a really good kind of contagion as science has found that kindness is infectious!

Witnessing “nice” and “helpful” acts, especially when we are young, inspires us to want to do the same.

  • Model Kindness. Children, as we have said, are watching and learning from what we do. Their brains from their earliest days are developing rapidly and making decisions as to what behaviors they will take on.  If we are consistently demonstrating in even the smallest acts that we care, that we can share our hearts, and that we can be helpful and empathetic, as a part of our being, children will pick this up and want to do the same. 

    When they repeatedly witness our efforts to reach out to others, share our time and ourselves (even with those we do not know or who may not return these acts), comfort others and make others smile, go out of our way to help someone and to make sure others feel welcome and included, then they too will develop the very same instinct. Acts of kindness never have to be grand gestures, in fact, it is in the quiet, small things where the kindness magic happens. The best way to instill a desire to help is to demonstrate that we strive to be helpful wherever and however we can and that being helpful makes us feel good.

  • Praise Kindness. By cheering children on when they are practicing kindness and prosocial behaviors, we are helping them to develop the important muscle of caring and empathy. We are empowering them to know that helping, caring, and thinking of others is something that they can feel proud about.

    Receiving affirmation for helping pick up crayons, sharing a book, and letting others be the first to sit on your lap ahead of them... all encourage children to continue this practice.

    Allowing children to own the moment will give them a true sense of understanding they did “good.”

    Praising children for even the smallest acts, such as helping a friend who has fallen on the playground, letting a friend take your turn on the swings, or even opening a door to let others pass gives children a sense of pride and helps kindness become a reflex.

    The same is true when children do not put others ahead of themselves - they need to be guided to understand that others have feelings too and that they need to listen and understand their impact on the feelings of others. Sometimes all a friend needs is a hug to know that you understand their feelings. Helping children to see that there are other perspectives to a situation can allow them to develop empathy and learn to think outside of their own small world.

  • Shine a Light on Acts of Kindness.  Taking the moment to stop and point out when you see a small act of kindness helps children to understand what it is to be kind and what kindness looks like. Ensuring children can see acts of kindness, discussing those acts - “Did you see how Kimberly helped Jeffrey find his lost mitten?” - they can then begin to understand what it is to be kind.

    Being witness to it, hearing about it, and seeing what again, even the smallest acts look like and how it impacts others will encourage a desire to want to practice being helpful and kind and to work to make it a part of who they are.

    Our days are filled with opportunities to point out the good that we see - we seem to often spend a lot of energy on the “wrong,” but turning the spotlight toward all of the things that make someone’s day better allows children to understand what true kindness means and how it makes others feel when we are helpful, caring, and thoughtful while giving them the sense that they too can make a difference, no matter how small. 

  • Keep a Kindness List. Creating an ongoing list of everyday acts where children help others or do something to brighten a friend’s day lets us highlight and point children toward spreading kindness.

    A Kindness List will allow children to learn to identify what acts of kindness look like and encourage them to follow along. They can go on a “Kindness Hunt” each day just to make sure that they are included on that Kindness List.

    Putting being kind at the center of children’s worlds will make it an easy practice for them and allow them to take ownership of not only witnessing when friends have been there for others but also looking at what they have done in their day to be a good friend. Encouraging children to “look for the helpers,” as Mister Rodgers taught us, will spread and become a part of children’s everyday experiences.

  • Read about Kindness. Very often, true learning happens in our quiet shared moments. Reading together is certainly one of those moments. Books open worlds and they open conversations around BIG feelings and everyday experiences...they take children into the lives of the characters inside a book and help them to connect to others. Stories can help us point to what friendship, kindness, caring, and sharing look like and allow for conversations where we can focus on situations in our days that may be similar to what the characters in the book have been through.

    Reading together and talking about stories and characters allow children to connect the dots - when a storybook character hurts another character’s feelings or when Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh try to brighten Eeyore’s day, we have wonderful opportunities to start these conversations and help children understand how to do it differently next time, how to be helpful, how to make someone feel better and how to be kind.  Our friends at Big Heart World have compiled some inspiring books on kindness.

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