Kindness and Its Effect on Children

Kindness is one of the most powerful and positive tools for creating a more happy and healthy society. Being generous, thoughtful, and helpful not only helps the recipient but also the giver. In fact, doing acts of kindness is more than just rewarding—it can also improve the giver’s overall health and well-being.

The benefits of kindness for children go even deeper. Experts have determined that practicing kindness changes the brain and provides physical and mental health benefits that can have lasting positive effects. This is why it’s essential for children to learn kindness at a young age.

As Dr. Martha Heineman Pieper, co-founder of the Smart Love approach, says, “The current climate of violence emphasizes the importance of raising children who will be compassionate and caring. Our brains contain 'mirror neurons,' which cause us to learn best by imitation—why modeling kindness, not forcing it, is the best way to create the adults we need.”

Here are some benefits of modeling kindness for your children:

Increased Happiness—Children copy how their parents treat them. When parents are consistently caring and kind, children copy this kindness towards themselves, which helps them develop inner well-being and happiness. So even when children are struggling, they feel that they are loved and valued. In addition, there are physical benefits of kindness even for the parent or adult giving kindness. Many studies have shown that kindness activates several areas of the brain and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. The feeling of pleasure one gets from giving or receiving kindness activates the need to replicate those feelings. So, the more someone performs a kind act or experiences kindness from others, the more kindness is generated overall, making the positive benefits of kindness far-reaching.

Decreased Depression and Stress—Similarly to increased happiness, when children are treated kindly they are more able to respond to stress in constructive ways and have more resilience to deal with everyday losses without taking it out on themselves or others. Researchers have also discovered that an act of kindness increases levels of serotonin, a natural chemical responsible for improving mood, in the brain. Both recipients and givers of an act of kindness experience increased serotonin levels, which can lessen depression and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.

Improved School and Future Success—Kindness can also help children have a positive outlook on life. This in turn can increase their attention spans and creative thinking abilities, producing better results at school.

According to Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, it’s been documented that middle school students who go out of their way to help and cooperate with and share with their peers actually get better grades and higher standardized test scores than their classmates who are less caring and helpful.(1) As Grant says, “There's something about being taught early on to be concerned about others that actually enhances your own success later.”(2)

Positive Social/Relationship Skills—When parents are able to acknowledge and accept children’s feelings even when there is a difference in perspective, it helps children grow up to treat others with the same compassion and respect. This ability greatly increases the likelihood that children develop into adults who can enjoy closeness with others, and respect others who are different than themselves and not resort to hate or conflict.