Kids Playing 472

With the start of a new year, we often reflect on what’s important in life and in our relationships with others. There are many articles in professional journals and the kind of popular magazines you find online and on newsstands that provide a sense of what's trending for 2017. Happily, I see that kindness is high on the list of what's important in our world. Out of everything we teach our children, I believe that one of the most significant life lessons we can pass on is the value of kindness.

Unfortunately, we hear so much about negative actions like bullying, that we need to cultivate positive actions like those researchers describe as "the actual behaviors involved in kindness" (Kotler Clarke to Redbook Magazine, February 2017). These behaviors include sharing, helping others, tolerance and empathy. Qualities like these ensure that students will be happy, healthy and successful in school and in life.

As we start a new year full of promise, let's focus on fostering kindness in our students and in ourselves—a habit we can practice every day of the year. Here are some ways to create a kindness movement in our classrooms and communities.

Lead by Example

As stopbullying.gov puts it, “Even if it seems like they are not paying attention, kids are watching how adults manage stress and conflict, as well as how they treat their friends, colleagues, and families.” Using phrases like "I'm sorry" (and explaining why), "Thank you" (and telling why) and "Can I help you?" are great ways to lead by example and to encourage children to use their own words positively.

Just doing our jobs in the kindest possible way makes a difference. When we comfort someone who is hurt or distraught or empathize with the experience of a colleague or student, we demonstrate caring.

Stress is a part of our everyday lives and how we manage it can also have an impact on how children see us and learn from us. It's cool to think of CEO (Chief Empathy Officer) as part of our job description as educators, parents, and role models.

Incorporate Act-Kindly Activities

Volunteering

Random Acts of Kindness projects enable students to participate voluntarily in activities that make others feel good, and more often than not, make them feel good in return. These can be simple things, like leaving post-it notes with encouraging messages on lockers, making a card for a classmate who may need moral support, or painting a group mural on a school wall in need of a little love. “Research has shown that teaching social and emotional skills like kindness improves behavior and academic success,” according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, whose website is a treasure trove of ideas and activities you can try in the classroom or at home. Establishing a kindness recognition system can also help foster more spontaneous acts of kindness by making positive examples of your students doing nice things. Be careful, however, not to over-reward their acts of kindness. Being good to others is an admirable quality, but it’s also one we should come to expect from our kids.

Another way to foster kindness in students is to encourage them to support a cause they care about. Whether it’s raising funds for childhood cancer or volunteering as a family at a special event, instilling volunteerism early is crucial. Responsibly exposing your class to some of the world’s most pressing issues—like the environment, poverty, or childhood disease—can activate empathy and spark action in even the youngest of citizens.

Reading Books That Celebrate Kindness

Charlotte's Web and Booked

Many know me as the resident bibliotherapist at HMH, and I think that books make excellent vehicles for demonstrating and discussing important issues in children’s lives. For younger children is there a better example of kindness than Charlotte in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web? And for older students, Nick, the protagonist in Kwame Alexander's latest title, Booked, stands up to a bully and recognizes the power of words because there's a supportive librarian who provides him with books as an act of kindness.

Prioritize the Heart as Much as the Brain

As educators and parents, we know how important it is that children learn and achieve academically. But we also know that it’s just as vital for their future happiness that they work and play well with others, maintain healthy friendships, and give back to their communities. Equipping students with strategies for coping with negative emotions is one way of promoting kinder kids. Encouraging them to consider all the possible consequences of their actions as well as exploring moral dilemmas with them can also help students foster compassion for others—a skill they need for today, tomorrow, and every day.

Explore how the Great Kindness Challenge is helping to spread happiness across the country. For a host of other ideas, check out this Pinterest board on teaching kindness. The Martin Richard Foundation, the Making Caring Common Project, GenerationOn, and The Be Kind People Project are some other great sites full to the brim with resources for helping to inspire kindness in kids.

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