Teaching children prosocial behavior can benefit the whole family.
Believe it or not, our children are hard-wired to be kind. In fact, we all are because it was essential for our survival as a species. Back in the 19th century, Charles Darwin noted that “those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring.” When we look after each other, we all do better.
But, more than that, our brains and bodies have built-in mechanisms to encourage us to be kind. When we are kind to others our brain’s reward centers light up as our bodies release the happy hormone dopamine. This is why people often report experiencing a ‘helper’s high’ after volunteering. Doing good feels good. But that’s not all; it seems that kindness is good for our health, too. When we partake in prosocial behavior our bodies also release the chemical oxytocin. One of the side effects of this happy hormone is that it lowers our blood pressure and even protects our hearts. So doing good does us good, too.
Here are four ways to encourage more kindness in your family so that you and your children benefit:
Model kindness. It may feel like our children actively do the opposite of what we say and do but, deep down, they are soaking up our example like a sponge. So, if we want our children to behave kindly, that means we need to set a good example. This means speaking kindly (be mindful about moaning and saying unkind things about friends, family, neighbors and partners!) and acting kindly. If your children see you being polite to others, they will start to imitate this behavior.
Give to others. Studies show that we get more happiness from spending money on others than on ourselves. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of money—it is the act of giving that gives people a boost, regardless of how much they spend. Why not give your children some money to spend on others? They could choose to donate the money to a charity, or they could buy a friend or family member a gift. This is the best kind of retail therapy!
Collect some smiles. One of the kindest things we can do for ourselves and others is to smile more. Smiling is contagious and so if we smile at others, they are very likely to smile back. Why not set up a fun little experiment with your children and head to your local mall and see who can collect the most smiles? You simply have to smile at people, and if they smile back you get a point. The first to 10 smiles could win a prize. Make it fun and spread those smiles!
Practice random acts of kindness. It can be tempting to only do kind things for people we know, but it is very powerful to carry out acts of kindness to complete strangers. When we hosted an It’s Cool To Be Kind Week at my school, one boy and his sister baked cupcakes with their dad, and they all went down to the local train station with their treats to greet tired commuters. What a way to end a dreary commute home! Your random act of kindness could be just what that person needs. Check out this site for more kindness ideas: randomactsofkindness.org
Kindness is a vital life skill that not only grows children’s emotional intelligence but teaches them the importance of looking after others as well as themselves. Give these ideas a go and grow your family’s kindness.