Cultivating kindness with kids
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible" - the Dalai Lama
In my classes recently, I have begun doing a new activity with the kids. It doesn't involve poses or breathing, instead it focuses on the heart, specifically giving and receiving kindness.
I call this activity "kindness notes" because every child gets to write a note to every other child in the class letting that child know what they like about him or her. At the end of the activity, each child has a page (sometimes front and back depending on the size of the class) filled with kind words about them. This is powerful stuff.
Children spend their days learning about math, reading, science, and social studies, all important elements to being a well-rounded and informed citizen of the world. Just as children can grow their ability to read more and more complex books or solve more challenging math equations through repeated practice, kindness can also be learned and grown through repeated practice. “It’s kind of like weight training, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help" says Dr. Ritchie Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin. Practicing kindness also leads to a multitude of health benefits, including decreased stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and blood pressure. Kindness also inspires kindness in others, leading to a positive ripple effect in the world. David Hamilton, Ph.d explains that when one person offers an act of kindness, it ripples out to three degrees of separation from the original individual who practiced kindness. Just like the common cold, kindness is contagious (but with much more positive symptoms)!
In addition to offering kindness, receiving kindness has huge effects on children (and adults, too, of course!). At it's root, kindness is an act of love and all humans need love and relationship to survive. When we receive kindness from others, we see reflected back in us our own intrinsic goodness. Kind actions and words are powerful. Receiving kind actions from others help us feel worthy of love. When we see something kind written about us, we can internalize the goodness in a more concrete way.
For example, an elementary school teacher recently told me a story of a young child in her class who was having repeated problems with his behavior. Meetings were held with parents, strategies were implemented in the classroom, but to no avail. One day, the teacher sent home a note to the parent complimenting the child and his behavior that day. The parent put it on the refrigerator and the boy looked at the note, smiled, and his whole being changed. Simply from reading the words on the paper, he was able to view himself as a good kid and a good student. After that, his problem behaviors in school subsided.
There are a million ways to practice offering and receiving kindness with your child and your family. If you'd like to try creating your own "kindness notes" at home simply gather the following materials:
- paper (enough for each person participating to have 1 sheet)
- markers or crayons
Each person should write their name at the top of the paper. Take your time, color your name in your favorite colors, add any other designs that you'd like, but leave room on most of the page to receive your notes.
When everyone is ready, sit in a circle, and pass your note clockwise around the circle so that each family member can write something they like about you on your paper. If your family is small (like mine!) you can pass the papers around a few times until the entire page is filled with kind words about each person. If your child is too young to read or write, you can either help them to write the words for other family members, or they can draw pictures of what they like about each person.
When you're finished, take time to read what everyone wrote about you. Take in the love, take in the kindness. You can hang up the notes on your refrigerator, or keep them in a drawer to look at when you need to remember how loved and cared about you are.
If you try this activity, let me know how it goes!
If you have other favorite kindness activities that you enjoy doing with your family, share them below (I love adding to my kindness tool-kit!)!