22 May Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – Kindness Matters For Children
The Mental Health Foundation that leads ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ has changed the theme from sleep to kindness this year, in response to the Coronavirus. At The Thriving Group we place enormous value on kindness because it is a quality that can be taught. This means that from a young age, you can teach children to use kindness as the compass for their behaviour. The benefits of being kind range from increased happiness and better mental health to increased popularity and acceptance amongst peers. These are all crucial factors for young people to thrive.
It is said that, “kindness is virtue”, but what is kindness and how do we teach it to the next generation? Kindness is a quality. Kindness is a skill. Kindness is demonstrated in the overarching tone of our interactions, a simple smile, a gentle word of encouragement, patience and appreciation of other people. It is doing something towards yourself or others, that is motivated by a genuine desire to make a positive difference. It can be the guiding light for our behaviour. Children inherently know when they are being kind or not and that’s why it is an effective concept to teach at a young age.
When it comes to kindness, practice makes perfect. The more you integrate kindness into your day to day interactions the more natural it feels to be kind. In The Thriving Group ‘Foundation Programme’, one of our eight core modules is called “I am Social”. In this module we explore various ways to build strong relationships, increase trust and make others feel valued. Kindness plays an important role in this process. It is proven that kindness has a direct impact on wellbeing and friendship. A key study on the effects of kindness on preadolescents (or “tweens”) asked half of the participants to perform three acts of kindness a week over the course of four weeks. They all demonstrated an increase in wellbeing, further confirming that kindness actually improves the mental health of the person being kind – not only that of the recipient of kindness. Moreover, based on a peer survey, those who had performed the acts of kindness experienced an increase in peer acceptance and popularity. This is a significant finding because an increase in peer acceptance is “a critical goal, as it is related to a variety of important academic and social outcomes, including reduced likelihood of being bullied”. These proven benefits to kindness make it that much more valuable to integrate in a consistent and purposeful way into our everyday lives.
As parents, one of the easiest ways to teach kindness is to demonstrate it ourselves. Studies have also shown that kindness is contagious. Witnessing an act of kindness makes you want to pay it forward. Moreover, during childhood and adolescence mirror neurons in the brain are very strong. These are the neurons that make you subconsciously imitate, or mirror, other people’s behaviour. Small but significant ways of demonstrating kindness are to speak to your child with a kind tone of voice and to give them your full attention when they are speaking to you,
An exercise you can try at home is to take on a Kindness Challenge and invite your child to join you. Choose a time of day to speak to your child about kindness in general terms. What does this mean to you, to them? This could be in the morning, over breakfast or in the evening before they go to sleep. Explain that you love being kind so much that you will commit to performing at least one random act of kindness a day (the more the better of course!). And make sure to check in with your child by sharing your acts of kindness. This deliberate creation of positivity is how you can magically improve the whole family’s mental health.
Kindness to self
Last but not least let’s remember to demonstrate kindness to ourselves. This is something we have to be reminded of at times, as we tend to be our toughest critics. Let’s practice self-acceptance, self-love and simply give ourselves a break. We are doing the best we can, within our given situation and it’s alright if everything isn’t perfect – it’s not meant to be. Also remember to help your child be kind to themselves. Encourage them, remind them that they are doing a good job, that they matter, and that they are loved. Because the way we speak to them will turn into their inner voice.
In the words of Lao Tzu, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
As we celebrate kindness as the theme for Mental Health Awareness week this year, let’s remember how fundamental kindness is to our lives, family, community and to our humanity – not only this week, but always.
For further resources on cultivating kindness in your home please try our Meditations for Children. Meditation has enormous benefits for mental health, making it a wonderful practice to share with your family.
Join us in empowering future generations.
by Caroline Desmarais