When we think of neuroscience, we often think of complex concepts and studies that are difficult to understand. But at its core, neuroscience is simply the study of the brain and how it works. As yesterday was World Thank Your Day we thought we’d focus this week’s blog on something that you could help your kids to create, that will have a positive impact on their brain development, wellbeing and hopefully have them thanking you in later life – the habit of being kind.
When you do something nice for someone else:
- It actually makes you feel good too! Scientists have studied this and discovered that kindness increases our serotonin levels which can help prevent feelings of depression and anxiety.
- It boosts your dopamine levels which can help improve cognitive function and happiness – it acts as a bit of a natural antidepressant. Dopamine is also important for learning and memory formation, so it’s no surprise that it plays an important role in the brain development of our children.
- It releases Oxytocin which helps to promote feelings of calmness and connection too – strengthening bonds between people making them kind to each other, which then makes them kinder in return.
- It improves quality of sleep. We all know that getting enough sleep is important for good mental health in fact, one of the things we teach children about at The Youth Fairy is how R.E.M sleep (one of the phases of our sleep cycle) literally targets the negative thoughts and experiences of the day that have built up in their ‘stress buckets’ and gives it a good clear out. And the good news is a Harvard study found that if you are habitually kind, you are statistically more likely to get better quality sleep than people who aren’t.
So, kindness is really good for us and if we can encourage our children to develop a kinder mindset as they develop and grow then we can help to impact positively on their short to long term well-being – something they will certainly be saying THANK YOU for when they’re older!
So, how can we teach our children to develop the wonderful habit of being kind to others?
- Kids learn by watching their parents, so it’s important for them to see kindness modelled at home. With that said, kind acts are infectious. If your kid sees you being kind to others, they’ll be kinder themselves. Youth Fairy Lisa loves to surprise her daughter with notes saying kind things about her around the house to find. Youth Fairy Katie Rose makes a deliberate, active effort to say kind things about other people within earshot of her children and is really conscious not to talk unkindly about others in the vicinity of her kids either.
- Be kind with no expectations of reward. The best kind of kind is when you don’t expect anything in return – although, as discussed earlier your kids will still get a reward – all that lovely serotonin and dopamine! It’s not always easy for kids to be kind to others just for the sake of being kind so talk with them about kind acts and how there are sometimes no immediate rewards or benefits. If we can encourage kind acts to come from the heart they’ll be more likely to develop that habit rather than only be kind when they think they will get something out of it.
- Take part in kind activities. Encourage them to engage in acts of kindness such as volunteering, asking that friend in the playground who is alone if they want to play, writing a kind message or note to a relative. Youth Fairy Sian’s kids love painting ‘kind rocks.’ At the weekend they think about some of the kind things other family members have done for them and create them a thank you rock for them which shows gratitude and offers some positive praise too.
- Encourage an interest in other people’s thoughts and feelings. This can be something you start really early on with children – in fact when they bring home their reading books in reception you are encouraged to get them talking about the characters in the book beyond the text. Engage them in curious conversations about how the characters might be feeling and give them alternative scenarios. For example, ask “If this happened how do you think this would affect how they feel?” Encouraging children to consider other’s feelings and perspectives can support the development of kindness.
- Give kindness when they misbehave or make mistakes instead of harsh criticism or punishment, which can causes feelings of resentment and inadequacy. By taking time to support them in reflecting and learning from their mistakes, exploring calmly how they could have communicated/behaved more appropriately with a view to finding better solutions, you are helping them to make positive behaviour changes in the future. By treating them with kindness in their worst moments we are subconsciously teaching them to empathise with others, which is an important skill for social interactions.
- Reflect on kind acts they’ve done. Children who work with the Youth Faires keep a positive diary where they write down 5 things every day that have been good. There’s science behind this and it’s effectiveness (we won’t go into it here today so as not to digress too much – see previous blogs for more on this) – this habitual act makes positive changes in the brain and helps them develop a more optimistic mindset. We encourage parents to ask ‘What’s been good?’ about their day more too, perhaps sharing 3 things each around the dinner table. So, in addition to this, why not encourage them to write down what they’ve done to be kind or add this into your daily reflection of what’s gone well. This will keep kindness at the forefront of their mind and gives you the opportunity to offer praise and acknowledge their kindness too.
So, whether it’s kind words or a simple gestures, kindness has been shown to impact on our well-being in lots of positive ways and the great thing is it doesn’t need to cost anything, take significant effort or require any special training. It’s something we can easily support our children with and, because it’s contagious, the more kindness we show our kids, the more they’ll show others and the knock on effect will be wide spread!