Prosocial skills—”the propensity to act kindly or generously toward peers and other people.” Kindness and generosity. Don’t we all want our children to become kind, generous adults? In fact, we want them to practice kindness and generosity even as children. And for good reasons. Children who demonstrate more prosocial behaviors develop fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their less prosocial peers, especially in poorer neighborhoods and schools. Kindness and generosity “protect against risk of emotional problems in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.” But here is a surprise. A recent study suggests that a child’s kindness and generosity (their prosocial behavior) may actually improve their academic success.
For this study, researchers followed 1,175 children from 4-years-old through 7-years-old in Bradford, England. In general, the results suggested that children’s prosocial behavior positively impacts their early learning goals, phonic skills, and academic test performance. Significantly, prosocial behavior impacted each of these areas over and above the neighborhood and family socioeconomic status. However, there was another, rather interesting finding.
- If a child came from a poorer neighborhood and exhibited less prosocial behavior, they also had lower levels of academic achievement. But this was not true in wealthier neighborhoods. In fact, in wealthier neighborhoods, children who exhibited less prosocial behavior still exhibited high levels of academic success.
- Children who exhibited higher levels of prosocial behavior, however, did not differ in levels of academic success, whether they came from poorer neighborhoods or wealthier neighborhoods. This suggests that kindness and generosity (prosocial behaviors) may protect against the impact of living in neighborhoods with limited resources or educational resources and opportunities.
What does this have to do with families? The family is a training ground for kindness and generosity, for teaching prosocial skills. Your family can become a training ground for promoting prosocial skills in your children. Here are
- Parents can model kindness and generosity. Make kindness a hallmark of your family. Intentionally show kindness to your spouse and children. Offer to help your spouse and children, even without being asked. Also, let your children witness your kindness and generosity toward others. Speak kindly of others. Act kindly toward others. Help others. Model kindness and generosity. At least one study even suggests that a father’s prosocial behavior, specifically, increases their children’s prosocial behavior.
- Model kindness toward your children. Be responsive and empathetic toward your children. Children are much more likely to treat other people in ways that their parents of treated them.
- Provide opportunities for practicing kindness and generosity. Let your children be involved in activities of kindness as varied as setting the table for a family meal, helping to buy presents for friends or family, making cookies for a shut-in, or writing thank-you cards for gifts received…to name a few. The days are chock-full of opportunities to practice kindness and generosity. Coach your children in taking advantage of those opportunities.
- Notice and acknowledge when your children engage in acts of kindness. “Thank you for being helpful.” “That was kind of you to share.” Noticing and acknowledging kind behaviors in your children will increase the likelihood they will engage in more of it. After all, attention is one of the greatest parenting discipline tools we have.
- Take note of opportunities to talk about kindness. Acknowledge acts of kindness you see in others. Point out acts of kindness and generosity in the news. (Here is a great example from Good News Network about the exceptional kindness of a 13-year-old.) Utilize stories and movies to discuss examples of kindness in the story. You can also discuss missed opportunities for showing kindness and how a kindness might have changed the storyline. These provide excellent opportunities to teach about kindness and keep kindness in the “forefront of their mind.”
Practicing these 5 ideas for promoting kindness in your children will not only encourage them to practice kindness, but they will also buffer your children against “emotional problems” and promote better academic success. Kinder children, fewer emotional difficulties, and greater academic success…sounds like a great outcome to me.