April 19th, 2018
Some lessons are better learned earlier in life—and kindness is no exception. Historically, schools have focused primarily on students’ academic achievements, but today, child psychologists and educators also understand the importance of a child’s social-emotional growth. Moreover, while kindness and empathy have long been explicitly taught in Pre-K programs, there is an increasing awareness that middle and high school students also need to have a continued conversation around kindness, empathy, and other components of social and emotional learning.
Teaching kindness in the classroom is one way that we, as educators, can practice positive psychology. By teaching kindness, we are choosing to invest in the development of positive qualities—such as compassion, respect and empathy—within each student. Here are just a few of the many benefits your child will experience from learning the value of kindness:
When children learn to be kind, it becomes their behavioral default. Patty O’Grady, PhD, an expert in neuroscience, emotional learning and positive psychology, reports that, “kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it.” In effect, kindness is contagious, and by experiencing kindness at Selwyn, students may pass this trait beyond the classroom and into the child’s home life and extracurricular activities.
Teaching kindness contributes to greater academic success among students. This is because students feel more relaxed at school and are better able to focus on their schoolwork. When a school insists on a core value of kindness, much of the disruptive conflict and harmful social pressures students experience disappear. Thus, students are better able to process and retain new information, and they are more successful in their academic pursuits.
Teachers who utilize positive psychology often foster greater cohesion among their students. In classrooms that actively teach kindness, there are often fewer incidents of bullying. This is because each student feels safe and valued as a member of the school community. When a classroom environment is free of bullying dynamics, children feel valued by their peers and work much more collaboratively.
It is no secret that depression rates in young people are soaring. As a society, we place many expectations on our children and teenagers. These expectations can feel overwhelming, and they can contribute to stress and depression. Internationally-renowned author and speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer explains that when a person performs an act of kindness, the brain releases serotonin, which creates positive feelings in both the sender and receiver. Therefore, being kind has the positive consequence of making both people feel happier.
When kindness is the behavioral norm within a school or classroom, an important value system develops that students observe on a daily basis. It is often not enough to speak about kindness–children must also observe others being kind, and they must have regular opportunities to practice kindness themselves. A classroom based on kindness sets the stage for the discussion and implementation of other important values.
Educational research demonstrates that the very simple act of teaching kindness in the classroom contributes to happier, healthier, and more well-adjusted children. Additionally, it has far-reaching societal effects that go beyond the classroom. When we show our students what it looks and sounds like to be kind, there is a far greater chance they will repeat these modeled behaviors.