Parents are entrusted with immense responsibility of raising well-adjusted children. Children, who grow up to be assets to the society and not a nuisance. Teaching children to be kind is just one of those lessons that make them an asset to community.
Kindness can be defined as an unselfish act to help others or simply a trait of friendliness, compassion and empathy. What is surprising about kindness is that, though engaged in unselfishly, it greatly rewards the doer. So, it would not be wrong to say Kindness is also being kind and considerate to oneself.
Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in emotional and mental problems, especially among children. This, without a doubt, has been accompanied by a decrease in happiness and contentment. Something that is very essential to a healthy state of mind.
Why Teaching Children to Be Kind is Indispensable?
For those of you who greatly believe in self-care, here are some good reasons to teach children to be kind:
1. Elevated Sense of Happiness: Heard the adage “What goes around, comes around”? Well, when you are kind it does come back. Studies show that act of kindness increase Endorphins – the happy hormones in the body.
Endorphins are the chemicals that stimulate brain areas associated with joy, trust and social connections. Thus when you engage in a kind act, these areas of the brain are activated which helps you experience an elated sense of happiness. The best part, these feelings are contagious like flu.
So if you wish your child to be happy and content, teach him to be kind to others. It is surely going to come back!
2. Combats Bullying: A child who has been taught to be kind and thus stay attuned to other people’s emotions, will rarely engage in bullying. In the similar manner, a child who is empathetic and kind would earn many friends. Hence, less likely to be bullied. Teaching children to be kind is a total win-win in this case.
3. Increased Self-Esteem: Remember being kind releases Endorphins – the happy hormones? These happy hormones not only make your child happier but also help her feel more connected to her environment. This connection is pivotal in promoting self-esteem, sense of well-being and confidence.
4. Better Overall Health: Kind deeds release another important chemical in the body – Oxytocin. The very chemical associated with stress. Higher level of Oxytocin helps combat stress and anxiety thus contributing to better mental health. It also helps lower blood pressure.
Serotonin, another neurochemical, is also released when you engage to help someone. Serotonin is responsible for your mood and increased levels help counter bad mood and depression.
5. Enhanced Concentration: Kindness is not limited to mental, social and health benefits alone. It also positively impacts concentration, memory, sleep and digestion by increasing the serotonin levels in the body. Thus, helping children to concentrate and learn better.
These benefits make a strong case for teaching kindness. In fact, teaching children to be kind is more important than ever. With a rise of digital media, shortened family time, increased social and peer pressures, kindness has become THE essential life skill to develop.
Just like all other skills, kindness has to be taught. It is not something that a child is born with. It has to be inculcated through behavior and demonstration. Patty O’Grady, an expert in emotional learning, neuroscience and a specialist in positive psychology and education, believes
“Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it.”
Thus, to teach your children to be kind you must model empathy. Only when you are willing to understand your child’s emotions and step into their shoes, you can model kindness towards them. This would fire up your child’s mirror neurons and help them emulate the behavior.
There are many activities and daily interactions that can help your children experience and engage in kindness, first hand.
Activities to teach Children to be Kind
1. Observe and Appreciate: This is the first step towards teaching children to be kind. Just like you point out your children whenever they do something wrong, appreciate them when they do something thoughtful.
For instance when your child assists you in cleaning the room, appreciate and tell her “That was helpful”. Look out for these random acts of kindness and appreciate them. This would encourage your children to engage more in such behaviors and also help them notice other people’s acts of kindness.
2. Kindness Jar: Make a jar of kindness and add a post-it to it, with a short narrative of the deed, whenever your child does something thoughtful.
This would serve as a sweet reminder of appreciation for your child. It also doubles up as a mood lifter when your child is grumpy or sad.
3. Make Kindness a Priority: Children in families, which prioritize kind behaviour, grow up into more empathetic adults. They are better at social skills, display great leadership qualities and more adaptable. Reason? Their parents made practicing kindness a priority.
Simple conversations like did you share your lunch with your friends or asking your child if he helped the boy who slipped on the floor, go a long way in making kindness a part of their behavior.
4. Make a Gratitude Journal: When children are taught gratitude, they realize how kind others are to them. This acts like a seed and encourages them to be kind to others.
A gratitude journal need not be fancy. A simple paper with names of the people your children are grateful to would do. Help them write down their blessings and the things they are grateful for.
5. Teach Them to Pay it Forward: One simple rule, which we have been following with our kindergartener, is ‘Pay it forward’. What it means is that every time he receives a gift, he is obligated to gift something from his collection.
The idea is to spread happiness and at the same time count our blessings. What goes around comes around.
6. Thank You Notes: Penning thank you notes is an excellent way to teach children to be kind. Write your children thank you notes whenever they do something kind for you. And soon your children will emulate you and start writing down their own thank you notes for family and friends.
7. Plant a Seed: A hands-on way to teach kindness and how their kind actions make a difference. Ask your child to plant two seed in different pots. Let your child take care of one seed and ignore the other.
The seed that has been taken care of will soon sprout while the other won’t. That’s the impact of kindness. It may not be immediately visible but it always makes a difference.
8. Pretend Play: This is a great way to gain perspective of other people’s emotions. Create a scene where your child acts sad and you have to comfort her. Let the play and thoughts unfold. Reverse the roles and observe how your child behaves.
Role-plays allow children to think from other’s point of view. When you comforted your child, your child invariably learned how to be kind. And when you do the role reversals, your child gets to practice what she observed and learned.
9. Play Dominos: Teaching how kindness is contagious is easy with dominos. Set up the dominos and let your child observe the domino effect. In the same fashion when we are kind, we inspire others to be kind. Together we can make the world a better place.
10. Teach them to Smile and Greet: Just like kindness, smile is also infectious. Teach them to greet their friends and community helpers at school with a smile. Soon they will realize everyone around them is smiling too.
11. Set Kindness Goals: Setting up simple, easy to-do kindness goals can really help children get into the habit of being kind. Involve your children in goal setting and set up 5 kindness goals for a week, which they have to achieve.
These could be as simple as opening doors for others, helping a peer or even rescuing an ant from a puddle. Howsoever small, these acts have an immense power in transforming hearts.
12. Practice Kindness with Animals: Children who are kind to animals grow up into gentle people. But sadly, many toddlers and young children find pleasure in stomping over ants and spiders.
Teach them to be kind to these tiny living beings. You can start by asking them how would they feel if a fictitious giant or an elephant stomps on them.
13. Get Them to Help in Household Chores: This is especially relevant when you have helpers at home. Teach your child to clean up after a meal and help them do household chores. Picking up dishes, helping in laundry, watering plants are simple chores which even little children can help in.
14. Teach Them to Compliment: Complimenting each other is a superb way to practice being kind. When your child wins a game against you, compliment her on how well she played to model kindness. And when she looses, compliment on how well she tried.
Similarly, teach your children to compliment their peers, friends when they win or receive teacher’s praise. It is essential that children understand that it is not necessary to win all the time.
15. Donate Pre-Loved Stuff: Asking your children to give their old (or even new) toys and games to under-privileged teaches them an important lesson in kindness. For most young children, giving up things is difficult. Hence, donating not only teaches them to give their belongings away but also learn about their privileges.
Books that Teach Children to Be Kind
Reading books, centered on Kindness, is a good way to encourage your children to be kind. Stories often pass on valuable lessons to children and have the power to influence children’s minds and hearts.
1. The Smartest Giant in Town: A lovely story about a gentle giant who helps everyone in town. Authored by Julia Donaldson, this story is sure to spark kindness. It is wonderfully illustrated and is a delight to read with children.
2. Kindness Quilt: This is a story about a girl and the quilt of kind deeds that she makes. Centered around children in class, this one will certainly strike a chord with your child.
3. The Invisible Boy: A heart touching story about a boy who is invisible, not literally, to his entire class. How that stays aloof and how a new addition to the class makes this boy visible, this is a story of friendship and kindness.
4. Have You Filled A Bucket Today?: Another gem by Carol McCloud, this story illustrates how simple and easy it is to be kind. Though invisible, act of kindness are highly rewarding and satisfying.
5. A Sick Day for Amos McGee: A lovely story that illustrates how kindness is repaid. This story is about a kindhearted zoo-keeper who falls ill. Winner of 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year and the 2011 Caldecott Medal, this one is a must read.
6. Those Shoes: A personal favorite, this story teaches kindness and much more. It is a story of a boy who eyes a pair of shoes he cannot afford. How he finally gets them and then makes the decision to give them away to another child like him makes this story a great read.
7. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed: This story brings alive the magic of kindness and how it is contagious. When a girl decides to engage in a random act of kindness, little does she know she would be starting a chain reaction of kindness. A good story to teach ‘pay it forward’ and ‘domino effect of kindness’.