Unexpected Ways Kindness Improves Kids' Health
Mental health in children has been a forefront discussion since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an October 2021 announcement by a coalition of pediatric health experts even declaring children's mental health to be in a state of national emergency. Because of this, parents are constantly looking for ways to help improve the lives of their children during these unprecedented times. Capitalizing on the health benefits of kindness in kids may be a step in the right direction.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which celebrates Random Acts of Kindness Week each February, says there are "scientifically proven benefits to being kind." Kindness has lasting effects on physical, mental and emotional development, making kids healthier and happier in the long run.
The age-old golden rule implores people to treat others the way they want to be treated - but it is also important for people to treat themselves well, too. When parents focus on teaching their children to be kind to others and to themselves, it can mean an improvement in self-esteem and a decrease in self-harm. The self-awareness that comes from self-care helps children develop compassion and empathy, which researchers have even linked to the brain stimulation essential for learning. Kindness is also shown to improve mood and lower blood pressure, resulting in a longer lifespan.
Serotonin and dopamine, brain neurotransmitters associated with feelings of satisfaction, soar during and after performing an act of kindness. These feel-good endorphins can positively alter children's brain chemistry, lowering stress, anxiety and depression, and even lowering physical pain as a natural painkiller. According to a study featured on the Random Acts of Kindness website, "perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population."
Kindness builds community, something that is of high importance for childhood development as a fundamental human need. Learning how to be kind makes children friendlier and more trusting, which in turn can help them form stronger bonds and relationships. Notably, one 20-year study found that kids who showed more prosocial skills like kindness as early as kindergarten were more likely to stay in school, avoid criminal activity, avoid drug and alcohol abuse and have better mental health long term.
"Kindness is something that can be developed over time," said Sharon Pindell, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care training project manager. "Gestures of kindness can be a simple act like smiling or hugging, but they need to be done continuously - not just one-and-done - to truly have a lasting impact on childhood development."
Pindell, who helped develop Kiddie Academy's Character Essentials curriculum, also says that acts of kindness often build on themselves due to what is called a "helper's high" from the endorphins. "When children see others doing nice things, and the resulting positive reaction to these things, it makes them want to do something kind as well," said Pindell.
For activity resources to help practice kindness with your children, visit www.kiddieacademy.com/2022/01/celebrate-random-acts-of-kindness-week/.