I have been a very lucky vegemite. I just got back from a Family Holiday that included laughter, smooches and all the nutbag stuff that stems from being a part of our little tribe. I also got to catch up with some beautiful friends I haven’t seen in a really long time. While I was basking in the sunshine and love of these two friends, it occurred to me that in their own way they are exceptionally kind at heart. Then I started to think how lucky I was that I had so many friends that many have one thing in common- true kindness, a- go- out -of -your-way sort of kindness. Pondering on Kindness stopped me thinking about Fred and the Case of the diabolical Aneurysm. So bear with me and come along on my little escape from reality, hold my hand and lets walk together…
As parents and guardians of little humans we all strive in some way for them to be good people, to grow into being constructive adults, nice adults. The awesome thing to recognize is that all children are born good, children are naturally and intrinsically good. However once they have been in the world for a bit, environment starts to play a huge part in the formation of social skills and empathy. Some kids just seem to have a natural empathy for others that burst forwards like a water spring, whilst for others it doesn’t come so easy. How do we teach them effective skills? Is it simply by example or lesson? So what is kindness? A concept? An ideal? How do we teach it?
When we take all of these notions we have of kindness it all boils down to one question: What does that person need to assist or help them, make them feel better? We could even say that Kindness is an act of servitude to assist in either a small or large way.
In our Western environment we really do live in a convoluted world of ME, even as a kid it’s a busy place full of school, sport, curriculum, sleeping, eating, play-dates, movies, birthday parties…the list goes on, which for busy kids or just most people in general if we are honest – being kind or going out of our way for others on a daily basis isn’t a priority. Sure you can be pleasant and do nice things when the occasion arises, when it is requested or obvious, but to make Kind Acts a daily goal and a priority most likely isn’t on the agenda.
So what if we taught kids that the Kindness Formula has a necessary ripple effect that is crucial to living a healthy and happy life, as important as Vitamin D, Fresh Air and Good water? I will go one step further and say we should teach everyone. Because I don’t know about you, but there are poison spitting lumpy caterpillars in my life amongst the butterflies. (They don’t always look like caterpillars though huh?) Yup, the growed up ones we cooked earlier. Kindness doesn’t come easy to some. Some of us just have a bit of kindness lacking in our life, we’ve forgotten its important, seriously life can be bloody tough and you don’t always have the fuel in the tank to go the extra distance for another person. Or do you?
In 2010 political scientist James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University undertook an in-depth study into group dynamics and kindness that turned up some fascinating results. They revealed that kindness is in itself contagious and has contributed to the evolution of co-operation and Groups with altruists in them will be more altruistic as a whole and more likely to survive than selfish groups. From a scientific perspective, Fowler added, these findings suggest the fascinating possibility that the process of contagion may have contributed to the evolution of cooperation.
Fowler is quoted as stating acts of giving were “tripled over the course of the experiment by other subjects who are directly or indirectly influenced to contribute more.” They suggest that behaviour of kindness spreads and is a successful element for co-operation. Not a bad suggestion for a group of humans sharing a planet together one would think? James H. Fowler, and Nicholas A. Christakis. Cooperative behaviour cascades in human social networks. PNAS, March 8, 2010 DOI:10.1073/pnas.0913149107
So, kindness is contagious and necessary for the development and evolution of humans on the planet, (whoa heavy stuff!) So it stands to reason that the act of Kindness becomes a priority and a skill we teach our kids to give them a solid foundation for social living, without of course ignoring the fact that it feels really good.
So how do we go about it? A suggestion I heard about years ago and we integrated with our kids and became my catch cry when dropping them off to school; “Don’t forget to do something kind for someone and learn something new!”
Each night on the way home or at the dinner table we would ask them what act of kindness did they do and what did they learn? If they “forgot” to do an act of kindness it then gave a chance to think about how they could have. If they did do an act of kindness and learned something new it gave them the opportunity to feel really good and positive about their actions and see what they were “putting out there” and achieve a sense of accomplishment.
Something pretty magical starts to happen; they start to see the Ripple Effect for themselves. This action and process is an illustration of how kids can plant their own seeds and in weeks to come the kindness and learning grows and comes back to them. They are rewarded in subtle ways which in turn teaches them a whole new level of social skill and inner self learning, guidance and reflection and even gratitude for other’s kindness to them. Before you know it, acts of kindness become a daily routine.
Another benefit is that it propagates a great attitude; No matter what sort of day you’ve had, as long as you’ve shown an act of kindness and learned something new it has been a Successful and Worthwhile day. Don’t forget all of the great things Goal setting does for kids too…the list goes on. This little exercise before and after school has many layers of worthwhile outcomes for emotional growth and development all stemming from one small action.
Tip: You might get some eye rolling and resistance, don’t let this deter you, trust in the process of what you are doing! You can even make some rewards if needed to kick start it a little bit. Remember that if you make it routine your kids will retain it and integrate it eventually.
Another method I tried recently that was so successful I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried it years earlier, it certainly would have saved me a couple of near nervous breakdowns and money on wine lol. Seriously you ask no kidding around; TELL ME!
We ran a House Competition- the person who was the nicest and the kindest for a week got to choose whatever we had for dinner Friday night and a sweet of their choice. I admit I didn’t think this was the strongest of incentives, I thought only a trip to Disneyland would induce what I was asking… but what transpired was so hilariously successful it replicated a cross between the Hunger Games and Mary Poppins on steroids. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a house of boys and more often than not; regardless at this attempt I call parenting – the fighting that goes on between my offspring is so common place that the lounge-room resembles Fight Club more than the Swiss alps of Sound of Music, but I am telling you this house comp worked! After 5 days I had a non –conflicting peaceful calm house. Fighting had reduced by an estimated 70%, conflict resolution had progressively improved in epic proportions, my nerves were lovely and crazily in-tact and the house felt like an over 80s knitting party on a Sunday. I am not kidding!
The acts of kindness that went on were blissful to see, albeit at times they were faking it till they made it- (always fun to watch.) But it seems my children have enough of a competitive streak to make the challenge a success. The irony of them trying to out-do each other with kindness would have the most impressive passive aggressor bursting at the seams! But all humour aside- it worked. Surprising but true.
Lets face it, as parents we want our tribe to be kind, we all crave peace and calm and for our kids to be happy positive contributors. Perhaps a bit of well -positioned bribery laced with competition and good intention is good for the soul. I think the most important thing to remember is that we are all in this soup called life together, none of us is perfect and putting our heads and hearts together makes all the difference.
Some Questions to get you going when stumped with acts of kindness for your little humans:
Did you see someone sad at school today?
Did your teacher need help with anything?
Was there a way you could have helped?
Could you open the door for someone? Give a compliment? Help carry something?
What are the ways you could help at school?
Did you accept someone different today?
How could you support your friends?
How do you stay positive with your teachers?
Did you see someone in your class that needed help with something?
Remember Do something Kind for someone today and learn something New and don’t forget to try this on big humans too. You can replace the “Choose the Dinner” with “Choose the sport on TV and all sorts of other interesting Grown Up things, this is especially good for Romantic Relationships (My tongue is firmly in my cheek right now!….) If you want to be really super kind, you could change a legislation and pass a new law even! Now wouldn’t that be exciting?
Do you like being married? Was it fun growing up as a Heterosexual? I bet it was awesome, you were never questioned about the un-natural state of your romance or progression in front of God and Your Tribe making a commitment to have and to hold, honour and keep from this day forward, in sickness and in health. It is so much more convenient isn’t it? You didn’t have a choice you were just born that way! Lucky duck! The strange thing is, its a kindness to let all sorts of people have this choice too, let us not be greedy! Let us be kind and let us be human, its good for the soul I promise, and it won’t hurt anyone.
PS- putting the toilet seat down is truly a kindness. No really. Put it down.
Thanks for indulging me in my little escape. Sending you all blessings and lots of copious laughs because a giggle a day can keep the doctor away. x