KIDS
January 14, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness is more than its own reward. For kids, and grownups, too, probably, it offers status-enhancing fringe benefits as well.

We all want our children to grow up to be good and happy people – hard working, successful, and, perhaps most importantly, kind to others. Now that bullying has gotten nationwide attention as a major problem for school kids (not to mention adults), kindness seems especially important. Luckily, according to a new study of school children, encouraging kids to be kind not only makes them kinder, but also makes them happier and improves their relationships with their peers.

Four hundred school children, aged 9 to 11, were asked to respond to questions about how happy they were and how many of their schoolmates they would like to spend time with doing activities (a measure of peer acceptance). Then the kids were randomly divided into two groups. One group was asked to perform three acts of kindness per week, while the other was just asked to visit three places that made them happy. The children in the first group performed small acts like, “gave my mom a hug when she was stressed by her job,” “gave someone some of my lunch,” or, “vacuumed the floor.”

Parents can also talk about kindness at home – and, even better, they can model it. Children are particularly sensitive to parental actions and beliefs, and they are natural mimics of their parents’ behaviors.

After four weeks the researchers asked the childlren the same questions they had when the study began. For both groups, levels of well-being improved. But the kids who had performed acts of kindness were also more popular. After the kindness “intervention,” they significantly more likely to be chosen by their peers as compared to before the kindness training. In fact the authors calculate that the increase in their odds of being picked was the equivalent to “gaining an average of 1.5 friends.” Being kind to others ended up benefiting the givers, improving both their own sense of well being and popularity.

Bullying increases around grades 4 and 5, which corresponds to the ages of the kids in the study, according to Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, one of the study authors, in a news release. Simple interventions to improve kids’ interactions and acceptance of one another could include teachers talking to their students about kindness and encouraging them to act it out.

And, as always, parents can also talk about kindness at home – and, even better, they can model it. Children are particularly sensitive to parental actions and beliefs, and they are natural mimics of their parents’ behaviors. This can, of course, work to our disadvantage if we’re not careful – but if we pay attention to what we do, we have the opportunity as parents to impart the best behaviors we can to our kids.

The study is published in the journal, PLOS ONE.

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