Article first appeared in the Portugal Resident.
In our current worldwide situation, as we only now start to emerge from an unprecedented pandemic that will continue to impact all of our lives in the future, surely now is the time to promote the importance of being kind to all.
As both educators and parents, the hidden curriculum to ensure the well-being of our children is so important. It is surely time to recognise the physical, emotional, and mental health benefits associated with being kind.
We are all familiar with sayings such as ‘random acts of kindness’ and ‘pay it forward’. However, being kind is so much more than just isolated acts or the new annual ‘Kindness Week’.
Kindness should be an intrinsic feeling of devoting ourselves to others and nurtured from an early age. Research shows that people who are kind are both happier and more satisfied, with better mental health and have more positive relationships with both family and friends.
Neuroscientists have found that kindness causes changes in the brain. It is best learnt through experience, and acts of kindness lead children and adolescents to be:
Happy and caring – endorphins are produced when we are kind. They activate areas of the brain that are associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. These feelings of joyfulness have been shown to be contagious, encouraging more kind behaviour by both the giver and recipient.
Improved self-esteem – even small acts of kindness heighten our sense of well-being, increase energy, and give a wonderful feeling of both optimism and self-worth.
Increased friendships / popularity – research on prosocial behaviour among adolescents determined that being kind increases popularity and being well-liked is a principal factor in the happiness of children. It was demonstrated that greater peer acceptance was achieved through being a kind person.
Improved health – acts of kindness trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin, which can increase a person’s happiness and reduce stress. It also lowers blood pressure!
Increased concentration – kindness is a key ingredient that enhances positivity and helps children feel good about themselves as it increases serotonin levels. This important chemical affects learning, memory, mood, sleep, health, and digestion. Children with a positive outlook have greater attention spans, exhibit more willingness to learn and better creative thinking.
It is our responsibility to nurture the kind people of tomorrow. This is a continuous and ongoing process. Initially, it is important to reinforce what being kind means and talking about how we feel empathy with others. Compassion is acting on that understanding.
Vitally, if we, as adults, parents and educators, model and facilitate kindness, children will copy and imitate us. All children observe how we treat people, from subtle interactions, such as putting your phone down to make eye contact and saying ‘thank you’, to more tangible acts of kindness such as inviting a neighbour to share a meal, making soup for the homeless shelter or donating our time and money to take care of people in need. Of course, it matters how we treat our children too.
We should encourage kindness each and everyday in ourselves and our children by: sharing; volunteering; giving; saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; helping.
Being kind benefits everyone. The more that people are kind, the more that people will benefit, and a happier and more positive world we will live in. Be anything you want to be, but always be kind!
‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted’ – Aesop