Welcome to Random Acts of Kindness Week! What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and week than to commit to adding some extra special random acts that make people feel loved. Participating in this week with your kids is a surefire way to spark some good conversations about the importance of kindness. Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing more important than encouraging our kids to become caring, empathetic, and compassionate members of our world. Modeling ways to leave the world a little better than they find it and following the “Golden Rule” to make people feel safe, brave, and capable when they are in your company are just a few of the outcomes of participating in this week of kindness. The end result might just be a generation filled with truly kind and caring people.
This extra kind week was created by an amazing non-profit organization called The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. This foundation was born in the 1990’s during a summer of violence when a reporter noted that people should stop reporting on “random acts of violence” and start ‘practicing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.’ That comment started a movement, a foundation and a mission of making kindness the norm. The foundation achieves this by inspiring and facilitating kindness through free resources focusing on schools, workplaces and home/communities because they believe every act of kindness has the potential to inspire positive change in the world. And at HABA, so do we!
We love the idea of "Random Acts of Kindness" sprinkled throughout the week and the year and even more importantly, we love the idea of raising kind kids who will become caring adults. So how exactly do you go about doing this? Here are 5 ways to raise kind kids, every day of the year!
Go for the Gold and then the Platinum!
Empathy is hardwired into our systems from birth, allowing us to intuitively feel what others feel because of a little something known as the mirror-neuron system. So right from the very start, before they can even talk about it or share it, babies are learning about kindness. At about the age of 3, kids begin to understand how to demonstrate kindness and how it feels to both show it and receive it. This is the age when you can begin to have discussions about ways to act kindly and the easiest way to begin is the good old “Golden Rule.” "We treat other people the way we would hope to be treated ourselves." Or in other words, you wouldn’t want your friend to make fun of your new haircut (or outfit or whatever,) so you shouldn’t make fun of theirs. Once they seem to understand this concept, you can then move on to the Platinum Rule, which is that we treat people the way that's best for them, even if that's different from what's best for us. This means that when your toddler wants to bring their older sibling a special snack when they are feeling sick and they say, “Yes, a banana!” You remind them that their sibling doesn’t care for bananas the way they do and in fact, they prefer apples.
Inspire Their Imagination through Pretend Play
Learning about the Golden and Platinum rules is a big step towards kindness but developing kindness uses a muscle which gets stronger with use and understanding. And the best way to encourage understanding and the ability to step into another’s shoes, is through developing your child’s imagination. Play is one of the best ways for young children to practice and exercise their kindness muscles. Through doll play, children can imagine a scene where the doll fell out of a tree and needs stitches and extra love to feel better. They can set up a school with their Little Friends and enact moments of sharing and taking turns on the swing set.
Reading stories is another great way to open the doors to empathy. By learning about characters with very different lives and experiences, children can connect with them in a different way. As author Katherine Applegate says, "When we read, we imagine with our heart and soul and not just our brain. Characters in a book often share their feelings in an even deeper way than they might if they were sitting right in front of you."
Be a Kindness Model
Let your kids mirror your kindness and shine it out to the world. By watching how you incorporate empathy and how you treat the people around you, your kids will pick up cues and copy you. Kids are eager to copy their parents and caregivers and so by the time they are ready to begin sharing kindness with their own communities, they will have had years of modeling to draw upon. They will notice the subtle interactions, like putting your phone down to make eye contact and saying thank you to larger and more tangible acts like bringing a meal to a sick neighbor and donating time and money to take care of people in need.
Encourage Kind Habits
From the golden rule to magic words, there are many ways to turn the somewhat abstract idea of kindness into concrete action, including sharing, volunteering, giving, and noticing when someone could use help— a family member with a chore, an older person who needs a seat on the bus. As kids begin to see these habits in action, they also will notice how kind words and especially those “magic ones” make every interaction a little nicer. Practicing manners by saying "please" and "thank you" to the school-bus driver and the grocery clerks, for example, are small ways that easily add kindness to a simple situation. These little moments are known in the kindness world as micro kindnesses and they can add up to something enormous.
A great way to reinforce these micro kindnesses is through playing games as a family. Learning how to cooperate and play together at home is a great way to help your kids practice cooperating at school. And learning how to take turns and to be a good sport when a game doesn’t go your way is another vital kindness skill. And as the dice get passed or turns get taken, remind your kids to say those magic words, please and thank you, so that saying them can become even more of a habit when they leave your house.
The Ripple Effect of Kindness
The reward of kindness is kindness. As you and your family embark on this journey of kindness, help your children to stop and pay attention to how it all feels. Help them notice how good it feels to be kind—and how nice it is when people respond in turn. Have kindness conversations and share stories of when you experienced kindness from others or when you were kind to someone else and how good it made you feel. Having these moments of reflection can help them to incorporate these experiences thereby seeing that kindness is its own reward. In the long run, kindness will benefit everyone—the practitioners and the recipients—in a million different ways. That's what the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation calls "the kindness ripple effect," and it couldn't be more important.