“Children are so cruel” is a sentiment many parents have uttered when their child is the recipient of brutal schoolyard taunts. But what if we had the power to change that? What if we could give our children the power to change that sentiment to "Children are so kind"?
February 14-20 is Random Acts of Kindness Week, an opportunity to highlight kindness and embark on instilling it in our own lives and the lives of our children.
Kindness conveys numerous health benefits to both the giver and receiver of kind deeds. But, the best thing about it is that kindness is teachable and contagious. If we can teach our children to be kind, then in time, as kindness spreads, the world may be a kinder place.
Kindness Is Teachable
Studies have shown that when classroom social/emotional learning programs are implemented, children have an increased sense of empathy, decreased aggressive/antisocial behavior, and increased acceptance of their peers.
“Preschoolers perfectly understand what ‘kindness’ means,” Huybrechts explains, “So, kindness becomes a way of behaving that serves as the basis for developing a broader range of habits and understandings about how to be a good person and good friend.”
Children learn well through hands-on learning, such as when they have first-hand experience performing an act of kindness. Parents can help children by setting an example and performing kind acts themselves.
Discussing or reflecting on the experience with their child helps to cement the learning. According to Huybrechts, this act of reflecting on the experience is where most of the learning happens.
Books for Children and Parents to Learn Kindness
Sometimes, due to location, circumstances, or surroundings, the opportunity for random kind acts can be limited. This is where books and stories can be beneficial in exposing children to a greater understanding of kindness.
“As parents, you can be part of this learning experience.” says Huybrechts. “Select some books about kindness, or better yet, books that feature strong, multifaceted characters who are kind or generous.” Similar to hands-on learning, reflecting on a story by discussing the character and their experiences can help deepen learning. She recommends these titles.
Love, Z, written and illustrated by Jessie Sima
The Snail and the Whale, written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The Cat Man of Aleppo, written by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
Smile, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Wishtree, written by Katherine Applegate
Ghost, written by Jason Reynolds
For parents, she recommends Books that Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, by William Kilpatrick.
Kindness Is Contagious
According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, performing acts of kindness increases the feel-good chemicals in our body. When we do something that makes us feel good, we usually want to repeat that behavior.
Not only does giving kindness increase good feelings, but witnessing kindness can also increase feel-good chemicals and encourages those who simply watched a kind act to follow suit.
With this in mind, teaching children kindness through modeling the behavior and expanding their awareness through books may help spread kindness among other children. If we instill these characteristics in them now, they are likelier to maintain these values throughout their lives.
Random Acts of Kindness You Can Do With Your Kids
Brooke Jones, vice president of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, offers some suggestions of kindness acts that families can do together. The foundation offers a free Community Challenge Book, which contains these suggestions and many more. “It’s a great way for families to do something fun and engaging together,” explains Jones, “[and] it can be adapted easily for COVID.”
Be Kind to Others
Write a positive note and leave it for someone in your neighborhood to find.
Give a genuine compliment to someone.
Call a school in your neighborhood and ask to pay off overdue lunch accounts for kids.
Be Kind to Nature
Take a walk in your neighborhood and pick up any litter you find.
Organize a community clean-up with neighbors and friends.
Don’t use any single-use plastics for a month.
Be Kind to Animals
Gather old (clean) towels and bring them to your local animal shelter.
Try a new meatless recipe to prepare at home.
Don’t pick dandelions (bees need them as food in spring).
Be Kind to Yourself
Take a nature walk or hike.
Meditate for at least 15 minutes.
Go to your local farmers' market and treat yourself to a fresh and delicious snack.
For more information on the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, more ideas on how to increase kindness, or curriculum details for school programs, head to randomactsofkindness.org.
Schonert-Reichl KA, Arruda JW. UBC summary report of research: Preliminary findings. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Published February 3, 2018.