Tag Archive for kindness

A Mother’s Power to Raise Generous Children

Would you like your children to become generous, giving people? A study of 74 preschool children and their mothers suggests that mothers play an important role in helping children become generous.

In this study, 4-year-old children earned 20 tokens by engaging in a variety of activities. The children could then exchange all the tokens for a prize or donate some or all of them to children experiencing sickness or some other hardship.

In the meantime, the children’s mothers completed a survey to measure their level of compassionate love. This whole process was repeated two years later when the children were 6-years-old (only 54 of the pairs returned) and produced similar results. What did the research reveal? I’m glad you asked.

The children whose mothers showed a greater level of compassionate love exhibited greater generosity. They were more likely to donate some of their tokens to help other child in need. In addition, children who donated more tokens also exhibited a calmer physiology after sharing. This suggests a greater likelihood of good feelings. In other words, a mother’s compassionate love contributed to her child’s greater generosity and her child’s ability to self-soothe.

If that sounds like something you want for your children, start living out a compassionate love in the presence of your children today. Here are some simple ways to get started.

  • Help other people and involve your children in helping other people. Let your children witness your kindness.
  • Be available to those who need help.
  • Show kindness to your family and friends. This can be as simple as pouring a drink for your spouse or driving your child to their practices. It might also be as involved as making a meal for a friend who recently lost a loved one or helping a friend move.
  • Show kindness to strangers. Offer directions to someone who asks. Buy a meal for the homeless person on the street. Pay the bill for the person behind you in the coffee shop. Show kindness whenever you can.
  • Point out kindness that others engage in. We spend a lot of time in our society focused on the negative. We criticize, complain, and voice suspicion easily. Make it a practice to focus on the kindness of others instead. Point out other people’s acts of kindness—the times they let someone merge, the holding of a door for someone else to go through, the polite language used, the simple smile, etc.  
  • Volunteer together. Pick a favorite charity and volunteer there with your child. Volunteer at your church or a local social group (like scouts). Go to a nursing home and play board games or card games with the elderly. You might do this monthly or annually. Either way, volunteer together.

We all want our children to grow into generous, giving people. After all, they will be taking care of us in our old age. They will create the world…hopefully a world filled with generosity and kindness. Let’s start building that world today by sharing compassionate love with our children in our homes.

Spread the Happy Contagion…of Kindness

Couldn’t the world use a little more kindness these days? I know I’m in favor of increasing the kindness around here—in my home and my community. And, I have a plan to do it, starting with my family. I’m going to show kindness to as many people as I can every day. I’m going to engage in simple things—things like holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you,” helping to carry groceries, offering  assistance whenever I can, smiling—you get the idea, simple acts of kindness.

You may be asking, “What good will one person showing kindness do?” First, it will do wonders in our families. Even more, as we practice kindness in our families, it will spread beyond our families to our communities because kindness is contagious. A recent review of 88 studies involving 25,354 participants over the last decade revealed that being nice to others is highly contagious.  Note those last two words…”highly contagious.” This review pointed out a couple of important facts about the contagion of kindness.

  • Helping others increases our happiness more than helping ourselves does. Interesting, isn’t it?  Start practicing kindness toward others. It’s for your own good.
  • Seeing other people benefit from kindness motivates us to share kindness more than receiving kindness ourselves. So, let your children see you being kind to their other parent. Let your spouse see you being kind to your children. Let your family see you being kind to those in the community. It will motivate them to engage in acts of kindness as well.
  • People don’t just imitate acts of kindness they see others perform. They modify, improvise, and adjust those acts of kindness. They create their own acts of kindness. Seeing kindness inspires them to engage in kindnesses beyond what they saw.

Yes. I am going to do it. I am going to increase my kindness within my family and my community. My spouse and children will witness this kindness and be inspired to engage in their own acts of kindness. I will witness their acts of kindness and be inspired to engage in even more kindness. The upward cycle will begin. Even our neighbors will witness our kindness and catch it. The contagion will grow and perhaps, in time, we will have a community of people engaging in kindness. Wouldn’t that be a change? A miracle? A relief! Will  you join me?

It’s All Fun & Games Until… It’s Something More

Teaching our children to be helpful and generous is all fun and games…at least in part. That is what I learned from a study published in November 2014. Actually, it was a series of four studies. The first study involved 1- and 2-year-olds assigned to one of two groups. In the first group, a researcher engaged a child in reciprocal play such as rolling a ball back and forth, pushing buttons on a musical toy together, or handing large rings to one another. In the second group, the researcher engaged in parallel paly with the child. Specifically, the researcher played with one set of toys while the child played with another set of toys.  After six minutes, the researcher acted as though they needed help reaching an object. Those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped the researcher get the object significantly more often than those who had engaged in parallel play.

The second study involved assigning children to the same two groups as the first study. It also added a third group in which the researcher merely sat nearby and talked to the child while he played. This time, the researcher left the room and a second researcher, who did not know which child was in which group, came into the room and exhibited a need for help. Once again, those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped significantly more often, even though the person they helped was unknown to them, a stranger.

The third study involved 3- and 4-year-olds in the same two groups as the first study: a reciprocal play group and a parallel play group. As in the second study, the researcher left the room and an assistant carried out the rest of the study. This time, rather than asking for help, the researcher offered the child 6 opportunities to give stickers to him- or herself or to the absent experimenter through the assistant. Guess what. Those engaged in reciprocal play were significantly more generous.

Finally, in a fourth study involving 4-year-olds the researcher asked two assistants to play with the child while he left the room to complete a task. One assistant engaged the child in reciprocal play for one minute. The other engaged in parallel play with the child for a minute. Then the experimenter returned. He showed the children a picture of the two assistants and asked them to point to the one they thought would give them a gift, help them open a door, or share a toy with them. The children consistently pointed to the one who engaged in reciprocal play with them.

These studies suggest that engaging our children in interactive play—play that involves sharing, taking turns, working together—nurtures their willingness to show kindness to others, even those they do not know but trust. It also increased their tendency to act generously toward others. Generous and kind children…triggered by our own interactive play with them. Simply playing a different game next to them did not promote kindness or generosity. Neither did sitting next to them and talking while they played. Getting involved in their play, interacting with them—tossing a ball back and forth, sharing play objects (dolls), or working on a project together (Legos)—promoted kindness and generosity. In other words, teaching our children to be generous and kind is all fun and games. So, be generous enough to kindly give your children the time to interact with them in play…and they will grow in kindness and generosity as well.

A Challenge for Families of Teens

The media often tells us about the challenge of teens. We hear about their fluctuating moods, out-of-control hormones, and risky behaviors. We raise concerns about the prevalence ratings of teen sexual activity, drug use, or bullying. But maybe these stories sell our teens short. Maybe there is much more to our teens than the media would suggest. In fact, research published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology asked 191 ninth grade students to engage in five acts of kindness in a week. In response, the students completed 943 acts of kindness during that week! 94% of the teens reported completing 3 or more kind acts of kindness in response to that challenge. Not surprisingly, after completing one week of kind acts, the students showed an increase in their perception of their own kindness. Binfet, the author of this study, noted that “when encouraged to be kind, the teens surpassed expectations.”

This reminded me of a concept Tony Campolo espoused many years ago in his book Ideas for Social Action. He believed that young people are attracted to challenge more than entertainment, meaningful action rather than “pie in the sky when you die” promises. In this study, Binfet challenged students to kindness and their response “surpassed expectations.”

What does all this mean for parents and families? Perhaps, rather than focus on the challenge of teens, we need to offer our teens a challenge, a challenge to kindness, a challenge to reach out to the others in love, a challenge to live a life of service, sacrifice, and meaning. In response to the study above, Binfet suggested that our teens would benefit from parents and educators finding “ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.” I believe this challenge begins at home. How can we, as parents, provide opportunities for our children and teens to show kindness to others? When we do, I believe we will be pleasantly surprised as our teens “surpass our expectations.” So, rather than bemoan the challenge of teens, lets challenge our teens and our selves to engage in acts of kindness.

Here is an experiment you can try this month. It is a challenge for the whole family, including your teens. Challenge every member of your family, including the teens, to engage in 5 acts of kindness every week for a month. Note the acts of kindness can be done within the family or outside the home toward friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. At the end of each week, talk about the kindnesses each one has shared and how those acts of kindness impacted you as an individual and the world around you.

LEAP Before You LOOK

Did you read the title as it is written or as you usually hear it spoken? Read it again: LEAP Before You LOOK! Granted, it is generally better to look before you leap, to count the cost. But there is at least one time when it is better to LEAP before you LOOK, at least that’s the suggestion of a study conducted by University of California Santa Barbara. In this study, 1,500 participants completed two surveys. The first survey was a measure of the participants’ attitudes about socially desirable behaviors like kindness, forgiveness, and self-accountability. For this survey, the participants were divided into the three groups.  The first group had to answer true/false questions in under 11 seconds. The second group was instructed to wait 11 seconds before answering. The third group simply answered the questions at their own pace. Those who answered in under 11 seconds scored higher in social desirability. They described themselves as more kind and helpful. The longer a person “thought” before answering, however, the more selfish their answers became. Interesting…but why?

To gain a better understanding of why this might be true, the participants took a second survey assessing their core beliefs about humanity. This survey revealed that a person who believed people’s “true self” was generally good AND people who believed people’s true self was generally bad BOTH showed more social desirability under the 11 second time constraint. In other words, their core belief about people did not impact their tendency to be kind and helpful. Still, thinking about being kind and helpful did impact the participants’ actions. The more the participants thought about being kind, the less they responded with kindness and the more selfish their answers became.

In other words, our first impulse tends to lean toward kindness. The researchers suggest that “kindness is a deeper learned habit that comes from a lifetime of associating kind behaviors with beneficial outcomes.” Could be…or maybe we are wired for kindness. I don’t know. That’s an idea to explore and clarify in future studies. (Read Toddlers Prefer What Kind of People? & Geometry, Infants, & Compassion.) At any rate, our first instinct seems to be toward kindness. But we think. We contemplate how needy the recipient of our kindness “really is.” We worry about an audience. We wonder if we are the right person to help. We count the cost of helping and being kind…the financial cost, the time cost, the emotional cost, the reputational cost. Then, after all the thinking is done, the opportunity for kindness has passed. We have talked ourselves out of kindness. In other words, we looked and never leaped.

So, when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK. We can teach our children this principle of kindness by doing the following.

  • Share kindness with your family. Offer family members a compliment as often as you can. Make them some coffee or tea. Pour them a glass of pop. Do a chore. Sharing kindness requires action. Don’t just think about it. Do it. As you practice and model kindness within the family, your whole family will learn to extend kindness beyond the family unit as well.
  • Read stories of kindness. You might find these in children’s books (Here are 17 Kid’s Books that Teach Kindness from Woman’s World.) or you might find them in various news publications (like Good News Network). Discuss these stories of kindness and how your family might respond in similar situations.
  • When the opportunities arise to show kindness outside the home, LEAP before you LOOK. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just think about it. Do it. Encourage your children to share kindness. Let them see you sharing kindness. It may be as simple as holding the door for a stranger or as honorable as returning money to a person who dropped it. Whatever the opportunity, show kindness.

As we practice these three steps in our homes, our children will come to know that when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK.

“As For Me & My House…”

Are you tired of all the infighting we see in the world around us? The divisive comments and constant accusations? The incivility and contempt we witness in the news, on social media, and even in the public square?  I know I am…and it frightens me a little bit. After all, “civility, politeness, it’s like cement in a society: binds it together. And when we lose it, then I think we all feel lesser and slightly dirty because of it” (Jeremy Irons). I do “feel lesser and slightly dirty” as I witness rudeness, disrespect, and coarseness in the world around me. At times, I fear the cement of our civility is weakening and beginning to crack rather than holding us together. I worry that if we do nothing, civility will remain a mere tool in the hand of those who attempt to manipulate us…an illusion without true substance. And “when civility is illusory, war is inevitable” (Steve Maraboli).

However, I also have hope. I am optimistic that we can make a change…and it begins with each of us and our families. It begins when we value civility and practice it in our own lives and in the lives of our families. With that in mind, let me offer some practical ways you can practice civility in your life and in your family life and so begin a swell of civility in our society.

  • Practice politeness with gusto. Practicing politeness includes saying small phrases like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “I’m sorry” with all sincerity. Politeness involves “looking out for the other guy.” Polite people ask other people what they can do to help, how they can serve, and then they follow through by doing what is requested. A polite person holds the door open for “the other guy” and shares the last of the goodies with “the other guy.” Politeness compels us to think about other people. It urges us to let people know we respect them through our words and actions. Practice politeness with gusto in your home with family and outside your home with everyone you meet. Let you children witness your politeness.
  • Celebrate your differences. Each of your family members are unique. They have unique tastes, abilities, weaknesses, and fears. Those differences add to the beauty of our families. They help us achieve more. They provide opportunities to practice grace and so grow as individuals. They allow us to practice humility as we accept one another’s strengths. Honor the differences within your family. Celebrate those differences. It’s a practice of civility and love.
  • Practice radical kindness. Kindness is a warrior. It takes great strength to truly practice kindness. It begins by replacing any negative thoughts about those in your life (directly in your life or indirectly influencing your life) with thoughts of kindness. Next, do something kind for those people in your life, those in your family and those outside your family. When you truly need address some difference of opinion or inappropriate behaviors, do so with kindness. Kindness is contagious as well. As you practice kindness, those around you will catch it as well. Practice kindness…and watch others pass it forward.
  • Listen. Listen intently and sincerely. Listen to understand what the other person intends. Listen to learn the background and the context of what the other is saying. Listen. No name calling. No quick rebuttal. No proving them wrong. No counterargument. Just listen. Bear witness to their world. Understand them deeply. Then, when you understand them, respond with radical kindness…especially when you disagree or believe them wrong.

As we practice these skills in our homes and teach our families to practice these skills outside our home, we will build a groundswell of civility. We need that in our society today for “civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multistate democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization” (Van Jones). So, I’m going to work at practicing civility in my house and in my world. I hope you will join me. But, if not, “as for me and my house….”

Rather Than Building a Bully, Try This…

None of us want our children to become a bully. That’s why I really like the study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. The researchers of that study followed 1,409 children from 7th through 9th grade to explore how parenting style impacts a teen’s ability to manage emotions such as anger. This study revealed the negative impact of a parenting style that expressed criticism, sarcasm, put-downs, and hostility toward children while using emotional and physical coercion to gain compliance from children. They called this a “derisive parenting style.”

This “derisive style” of parenting contributed to children who had poorly regulated or poorly controlled anger. In the peer interactions, poorly controlled anger led to more negative emotions, greater verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. The poorly controlled anger put teens at greater risk for bullying AND victimization AND for becoming a bully who is also victimized by other bullies.

I don’t know any parent who wants their child to becomes a bully, a victim, or a bully-victim. So, rather than using “derisive parenting style” let me suggest a kinder, more loving kind style.

  • Rather than criticism offer sincere appreciation for what’s done well, constructive appraisals around areas of potential improvement, and acceptance for differing ideas.
  • Rather than sarcasm offer playful banter, respectful limits, and loving boundaries.
  • Rather than put-downs offer much needed encouragement, admiration of positive effort, and compliments on personal growth.
  • Rather than verbal hostility offer verbal affection, loving and firm boundaries, and light-hearted opportunities for laughter.
  • Rather than physical coercion offer healthy physical affection, physical assistance, and gentle guidance.
  • Rather than emotional coercion like shame and guilt offer the emotional support, acceptance of different ideas and methods, and assurance of love.

Ironically, replacing a “derisive parenting style” with a more loving, supportive parenting style results in greater compliance as well as a more independent, confident, and self-controlled child. Step away from building a bully with “derisive parenting;” build a strong, confident child by using a kinder, more loving parenting style instead.

What Does This Mean for Your Family

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Cologne collaborated to explore what contributed the most to a person’s well-being:

  • Moral thoughts—thinking good things or things that benefit another,
  • Engaging in moral deeds—doing something that benefits another, or
  • Doing something kind for yourself—like relaxing or treating yourself to something nice.

Interestingly, all three things contributed to a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. Beyond this, however, each thing made its own specific contribution as well.

  • Moral thoughts AND engaging in moral deeds increased feelings of being virtuous as well as social connection. They both led to an increase in feeling empathic, moral, and grateful for the day as well.
  • Only engaging in moral deeds contributed to people feeling less angry, less isolated, more in control, and as if they had a more purposeful life. It had the greatest impact on the greatest number of measures of well-being.
  • Doing something kind for yourself led people to feel less emotionally exhausted.

What does all this mean for you and your family? If we want healthy families, we need to root them in an environment that nurtures well-being. We need to teach our children to live a life that promotes well-being. We need to model a lifestyle that nurtures well-being in the home and in the community. We need to practice that lifestyle and the practice of that lifestyle consists of the three things: moral thoughts, engaging in moral behaviors, and doing something kind for ourselves. Think about each of those three components for a second.

  1. Thinking good things to benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Ironically, in this study, most people reported that they engaged in prayer when told to think thoughts to benefit other people. Great idea. Pray for each of your family members on a regular basis. Think positive thoughts about them. For example, dwell on things you enjoy about them and admire in them. Think about those things about your family for which you are grateful.
  2. Do things that will benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Do a kind deed for another person. Get them a drink. Help them complete a chore. Give a compliment. Encourage. Hold the door open. You get the idea. Do something nice for the people around you, including your family, every chance you get.
  3. Do something nice for yourself. Don’t get carried away. No need to get selfish. But we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are emotionally, physically, and mentally rested. So, do something nice for yourself every day.

All this reminds me of one of the commands given to the Israelites and buried in Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:9-18).  Our family and our world become a better place when we love one another—thinking good thoughts about them and doing things that will benefit them. We love them better as we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. So, I guess we better do something nice for ourselves as well. Our families will be healthier places for it. Sounds like a good plan to me. How about you?

Everyday Conversation That Teaches Kindness

Children are born with the tools necessary to develop empathy and act in kindness. For instance, they are hardwired from birth with mirror neurons in the brain. Mirror neurons “fire” when observing another person engage in some activity. For example, see someone making a sad face in response to an observable cause and mirror neurons “mirror” the observation. Or, in a more visible example, when a toddler witnesses a peer crying at daycare, they often begin to cry as well. 

In other words, children are born with the tools needed to develop empathy and act in kindness. The real question is: how can we, as parents, nurture that empathy? How can we, as parents, help them translate empathy into compassion and kindness? Sometimes all we need to do is verbally guide our children into a greater understanding of their emotions and how to act on them. We can do that in several ways. Let me give you a few examples.

Point out the feelings of other people and ways in which your child can respond to the people experiencing those feelings.

  • You and your toddler are at the park when a friend of your toddler falls and starts to cry. You might say to your child, “Your friend is crying because they got hurt. It might have scared them to fall. Maybe you can ask them if they’re alright.”
  • You are watching a football game with your child. Your child has friends on both teams. When the game ends, the winners begin to jump up and down in celebration. You could simply say, “Wow. They are really happy. How can we help your friend celebrate?” And, as you see the disheartened look on the losing team’s face, you might add, “Your friend is disappointed to lose a game. Maybe we can cheer him up by talking about the good plays they ran.”
  • Your spouse walks through the door after a long day of work and looks especially tired.  They drop their bags and walk into the bedroom and plop onto the bed. You say to your child, “Your mom (dad) looks really tired today. They’ve had a long day at work. I’ll let them know they can rest, and you and I will get dinner read while they do.”

Engage in pretend play. Pretend play is a great way to nurture empathy and kindness. For instance, you can prompt your child to consider the emotions and actions of the character they portray in pretend play. 

  • “I wonder what Barbie feels like when she gets a gift from Ken?”
  • “Those firemen have an exciting job, don’t they? I wonder what they feel like while fighting a fire? How do you think they feel after the put the fire out?”
  • “Can you imagine what that cat feels like when he’s stuck in a tree?”

You can also nurture empathy and promote kindness while reading to your child.

  • Before you turn the page of a children’s book ask, “What do you think will happen next?”
  • Point out the expression on the characters’ faces in picture books and label those expressions. “Look how happy he looks when others are kind to him.” “Look at that big smile after he shared….” “Oh my, that must be scary. Look how scared he looks.”

Of course, model empathy and kindness.

  • Simple phrases like “Thank you,” “Please,” and “You’re welcome” model kindness for your children.
  • Questions such as “Can I help you?” or “What can I do to help?” also model kindness and concern. 
  • Asking “Are you OK?” or saying “Ouch, that looks like it hurt” model empathy.
  • You also model kindness by offering to share or offering to get another family member something to drink while you get your own.

Your children are born with everything they need to develop empathy and kindness. As a parent, you simply nurture that empathy and kindness in your daily interactions with them. You can see from these examples that the opportunities to do so are limitless. And, as you do nurture your children’s empathy and kindness, your whole family will reap the benefits.

A New & Improve Family Groove

Have you noticed how easy it is to criticize? How fault-finding and blame seems so natural? Praise and approval, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to come so natural. Just watch the news to confirm this. When was the last time the headline story talked of kindness, sharing, or a job well done? These stories are relegated to the final “30-second-feel-good-story” at best, but never the lead the story.

Unfortunately, this attitude creeps into our families as well. We easily find fault with the way a job is done. We criticize our children and spouse for any number of things. We blame one another when a job is left undone or something goes wrong. We struggle to say a “thank you,” “great job,” or “I was wrong, sorry.” Instead, we say things, “Why should I thank her for doing what she’s supposed to do anyway?”  “Yeah, he helped with the laundry, but he did it wrong. It didn’t help. I had to work harder.” “I wouldn’t have gotten so upset and call him a name if he had done his chores in the first place.” There are more statements. I’m sure you’ve at least heard them.

All this negativity—the fault-finding, blaming, and the criticism—creates a negative cycle of pain, disconnection, and self-doubt. It lays a family groove that perpetuates harsh words, anger, and self-protection that leads to greater isolation. But there is a way to jump out of this negative groove and find a new and improved family groove, a groove that will lead to greater contentment, intimacy, and joy. Here’s the way to do it:

  1. Every day, thank each person in your family for something they have done that day for the family. They may have cooked a meal, washed clothes, gone to work to pay bills, helped clean a room, or simple spoken kind words to a sibling. You may think, “Why should I thank them for doing what they’re supposed to do?” Because you are a polite person promoting kindness in your home. And, you are highlighting the behavior you want to see, encouraging more of it. (Read Why Thank Your Spouse For Doing Chores to learn the power of a simple “thank you.”)
  2. Find an opportunity to do something kind for each family member every day. It could be as simple as passing them a dish at the dinner table or offering to fill their drink when you fill your own. You could complete a chore another person usually does—like loading the dishwasher, emptying the kitty litter, taking out the garbage, running the sweeper. These acts of kindness express love. They move your whole family into a new and improved groove of positivity. (Learn the Mighty Power of Kindness in this short blog.)
  3. Share a positive story from your day. Tell your family about something good that happened to you during the day. If you are on the listening end of the story, listen and share the joy of that happy event. Sharing good stories has a ripple effect that will jump you into a new groove of sharing more joyous moments with one another.

There you have it. Three simple ways to find your family a new groove. It doesn’t sound that hard, does it? In fact, it isn’t really that hard; but you’ll be amazed at the power these simple acts exert on your home and family life. Your connection with each family member will increase. Stress will decrease. Joy and contentment will grow. You and your family will experience greater joy coming home to share the good times. Give it a shot. For the next 14 days, practice the 3 steps above…and enjoy your new and improved family groove!

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