Why kindness? Here’s the short answer: because kindness leads to a lot of other good things like compassion, happiness, future success, better relationships, improved self-esteem, and good mental and physical health. And don’t we all want that for our children, our families, and our community?
So how does nurturing kindness in our children make for happier kids, more harmonious homes, and a healthier society? Research shows that performing positive activities such as expressing gratitude and doing acts of kindness boosts happiness.
Do you remember the “Golden Rule”? Most of us, regardless of our different faiths and backgrounds, are taught this adage from a very early age. But how often do we actually ask ourselves, “How do I want to treat other people and how do I want to be treated?” At a time when we see so much rude behavior in the headlines and all around us, and targets of bullying are getting younger and younger, the world might be a better place if we asked that question more often. Kindness is really important now. And each act of kindness makes a difference.
As parents and teachers, one of our greatest hopes is that our kids will be kind and good people. When they have a choice to help others, we hope they will. We never want them to be cruel, intolerant, or prejudiced. But it’s not always easy to be kind, even for us. Even grown-ups don’t want to share our toys sometimes. Helping others can seem hard when we feel like we don’t have the help we need ourselves. The good news is that kindness can be learned; just like any other behavior, it can be trained through repetition. The most dominant way children learn new behaviors is by copying those around them. Which means we adults have a powerful opportunity, and responsibility, to teach by example. So how do you teach your child to be kind? If you want to encourage more kindness in your kids, and in the world, here are some fun things you can do.
No kind action ever stops with itself.
One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed.
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions,
and the roots spring up and make new trees.
The greatest work that kindness does to others is
that it makes them kind themselves.
—Amelia Earhart, pilot
Get started by watching how kindness can ripple out and impact so many people, just like water ripples!
Watching Pat’s video, you saw how a tiny object can cause such big ripples! Kindness works the same way. When you share a smile or a kind deed with a friend, they are more likely to go out and do kind deeds themselves, and in this way the effects of kindness can spread across a whole family, a whole classroom, a whole neighborhood!!
Let’s write a story, poem, or essay about the big effects caused by small kindnesses. Start with a small kindness: maybe a smile or a helpful action. How does that kindness make people feel? How do they keep sharing that kindness with somebody else? Here’s a couple fill-in-the-blank sentences to get you started:
(Character 1) wanted to share a little kindness with the world, and so they did (Action 1) for (Character 2).
Because this made (Character 2) feel so special, they went out and did (Action 2) for (Character 3).
Because of this, (Character 3) was smiling all day. Their big smile made (Character 4) smile, too…
And so on! This story can go on for as long as you’d like. How far can that first act of kindness reach? How many people are inspired to be kind? If you’d like, you can even try sharing your story with a friend or a family member. Sharing your imagination and your writing is a great way to spread your own ripples of kindness!!
Studies show that gratitude for kids can be a very powerful tool, with lots of benefits to mental and physical health. They include things like:
- Higher levels of happiness and optimism
- Improved sleep
- Less stress and an improved ability to cope with stress
- Fewer physical problems
- Reduced depression
- Less aggression
- Increased self-esteem
- Improved resilience
Those are a lot of benefits, right? So how can you teach your children to be more grateful? The more children practice gratitude, the better they get at it and the greater the benefits. For older children who are able to write, a gratitude journal is a fantastic way to create a gratitude habit. Even younger children may like to use a gratitude journal and draw or create art that reflects what they are feeling grateful for. Recording the things we are grateful for is a great reminder when we are having a difficult day, and helps us reflect on our journey down the track, so we can see just how far we’ve come and how much we have to appreciate in our lives.
A gratitude journal can be very basic—just a few sheets of paper stacked together and stapled—or something more formal, like a spiral notebook or a more elaborately bound journal. The only other supply that’s needed is a pen or pencil.
Date each journal entry. Down the road, it’s fun to look back and see what we were grateful for at different ages.
Then, the kids are ready to reflect and write down three things they are grateful for that day. This is best done at the end of each day. If it’s not long before bed, it’s the perfect ending to a day.
Here are a few prompts to help kids phrase their grateful thoughts.
- I’m thankful for…
- I appreciate…
- I’m grateful for…
- Thank you for…
It can take some time for gratitude journaling to become a habit for your child. So, have a set time and place for them to journal each day. Also, you as a parent can model this positive pastime by keeping your own gratitude journal. The routine will help a journaling habit begin to form—and can help lead to a lifelong practice of thankfulness.
What better way to show your love for family and friends than to create a keepsake piece of art? Below you’ll find how to fold a beautiful origami heart and then use the space to tell them something you love about them.
Watch the video to learn how, or click the button for step-by-step instructions.
Send a Hug
A great way to watch the ripple effect of kindness is to show a family or friend that you’re thinking about them. Most of us are feeling distanced from someone in our family right now. This project is a great way to get the kids involved in showing love and kindness. By sending a hug in the mail, they’ll also be spending some time feeling closer to that missed loved one.
- Roll of paper (or a brown paper bag opened up!)
- Any coloring materials–crayons, paint, pencils, markers, stickers–no wrong answers!
Step 1: Roll out a piece of paper (or tape smaller pieces together) and make sure it’s wide enough for your kiddo’s wingspan.
Step 2: Trace each kid’s outline on their own piece of paper. You can include their head (or not! Whatever they have the energy to decorate!).
Step 3: Set up a decorating station so they can decorate their self portrait within their outline. Before starting you can talk about what colors they want to make their hair, eyes, and clothing. Talk to them about what they’re doing as they’re working. Recognize their choices, engage them in conversations about their ideas and creations!
Step 4: Cut out their hug.
Step 5: Roll it up or fold the arms in in a hug pose. Mail it or send a photo of the artwork as a email/text!
DISPLAY YOUR ACTS OF KINDNESS
You may have heard the parenting advice that suggests you catch your kids in the act. Catch them in the act of doing something good! Research shows that the most effective way to encourage kind behavior is to reward it–with positive feedback. But it’s important to praise the attempt and effort and not the inherent talents. For example, “You are the best dancer. Your dancing makes people smile,” could be said as, “ You have put so much work and love into your dancing. Do you notice how it affects people? Do you see them smiling?” This is using encouragement vs. praise.
This beautiful family project gives your kids a physical representation of their thoughtfulness and is sure to inspire them to make it as big as possible!
- Construction paper pieces
- Glue stick, stapler or tape
- Pen to write with
- Every time you catch your child doing something kind, write it down on a strip of paper
- Slide the new strip through the first one and glue together
- Keep this going until you have a beautiful paper chain to display
Another fun way to display all of your hard work is to make a family Kindness Jar.
Have you heard the sayings “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” or “When your bucket is full, you feel great!”
Well, this reminds us that when we are kind to others we are actually filling up our own cups. The family Kindness Jar was inspired by the book Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children.
You can decorate your jar together as a family. Each time you catch each other being kind, celebrate by adding another descriptive paper to the jar. See how many you can cram in! It also becomes a tool to discuss all of those wonderful shared memories if you empty it and read through the acts of kindness.
The Kindness Challenge
We’d love for you to join our Kids Kindness Challenge! Just snap a picture of your child completing their random acts of kindness and share by tagging #ypsilibrary on Instagram.
Random Acts of Kindness
Random acts of kindness are things we do for others without the expectation of receiving anything in return. In fact, many times we complete these acts anonymously and receive no acknowledgement at all of our good deed. It is kindness done simply to help others feel good.
Notice the times when your children are kind to others. Let them know that you noticed the way they shared their toy with their sibling, comforted their sad friend or invited someone to play because they were on their own. Celebrate kindness. Look for ways you can be kind together. Not for any particular reason, just because.
Click the button to find a list of kindness activities. They are all simple, low or no cost activities that are appropriate for a range of ages. Choose the ones that are most appropriate for your own situation, or come up with your own!