“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
Parents and caregivers often want their kids to be happy. They also appreciate those moments when their children are kind. The good news is that happiness and kindness can actually support one another and create a positive feedback loop. Being kind can help you feel happier, and when you feel happier, you are more likely to be kind. So, teaching our kids about kindness is not just helping them be good citizens, it can also foster a sense of happiness.
We may associate kindness with concepts like sympathy, empathy, gentleness, friendship, stewardship, and love. We may even reflect on acts of kindness that required moments of strength, courage, wisdom, clarity, and patience. But kindness doesn’t actually have to be or feel so complicated. It has the ability to flourish when we recognize and appreciate the deep connections and relationships that we have. It is an innate capacity within all of us, and when the conditions are right, we find it more easily.
Conditions that reinforce division, boundaries, separation and a sense of being disconnected make it more challenging to cultivate kindness. When we are able to look more closely at our fundamental interdependence, this interwoven web of life, we can more fully appreciate the swirl of relationships and interactions we experience. Feeling connected satisfies a fundamental human need to belong, fosters a sense of trust, and allows us to care. And this awareness of interconnectedness allows us to tilt our view towards a perspective of appreciation and kindness.
So what are some specific ways to foster a sense of connectedness and cultivate our capacity for kindness? And how do we teach our children about interconnectedness and kindness?
First, we can place reminders of connectedness in the home, car, office, etc. These reminders can be something as simple as a picture that evokes a sense of warmth and friendship, a quote that supports our concept of community and common humanity, or any object that symbolizes a source of connection. Consider reaching out to your child to see if they would like to choose reminders for their own room or in the home.
Next, we can use mental acts of kindness to foster our connections. When we take a moment to send wishes of friendliness, warmth, or goodwill, we are nurturing connections and building on our capacity for kindness. This may sound unusual to some, but this idea is often not foreign to us. When our good friend is interviewing for a new job, we may have the thought “I really hope my friend gets this job as it means so much to her.” Or when our loved one is ill we may think, “I hope they feel better soon.” Perhaps when our children are headed off to school, we can hold them in our mind and wish “may my child have an easeful day today.” We can utilize these intentions and well wishes at anytime and for anyone, even ourselves. Some people find it difficult to offer kindness to themselves, as we are often our toughest critics. It might help to start with a small gesture. Consider a simple phrase like, “May my commute to work be safe.” We can also develop a broader view of connections by including acquaintances or people we haven’t even met: “May this check-out clerk be well” or “May that mother of four children find moments of peace today.” Anyone can use mental acts of kindness, and it only takes a moment. And letting your children know that you are practicing mental acts of kindness allows them to realize that being kind does not mean you have to physically do something. Being kind is accessible to anyone, anytime, regardless of our resources. You may also find that they appreciate knowing that you are thinking of them and sending them well wishes during their day.
Finally, some people prefer taking mental acts of kindness one step further, such that they are offering physical acts of kindness. These acts of kindness can also be very simple. One might start with a small act such as a smile or a kind word. Other acts of kindness may include holding the door for someone, paying someone a compliment, or even telling someone a joke or funny story. Acts of kindness directed towards oneself might include taking a moment to sit and savor our tea or coffee, listening to some favorite music, or reaching out and talking to a friend. Sometimes we think we are too busy in our day to do something for others, or ourselves, but small opportunities are there for us every day. And when we model kindness with our own behavior, it encourages kindness in our children. Think of all those times your children mimic those embarrassing things they catch us doing. Fortunately, this works for benevolent actions as well. When children witness adults behaving altruistically, they are more likely to behave altruistically themselves.
So, see if you can foster a sense of connection and develop a kindness habit in your family today by thinking kindness, paying it forward, and being inspirational. And may kindness lead you and your loved ones to more moments of happiness and joy.
Dr. Tiffany Spanier is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Bellevue location.