We all want our kids to find happiness in life. Thanks to the “science of happiness,” research has identified several habits that make lifelong happiness more likely to occur. Kindness is one of these.
Being kind is a cost-free way to improve your emotional well-being. Plus, it doesn’t require a prescription! When we are kind, our brains experience an infusion of dopamine, the “happiness neurotransmitter.” The more kindness and compassion we display for others, the happier we become. Plus, kindness will make our world a safer and more sustainable place for our children and future generations.
For many of us, kindness may not be an innate attribute. That’s okay, because we can get better at it with practice. Here is a list of ways that we can teach kindness to our kids.
1. Model kindness. Our kids are always paying attention to our actions, whether or not we realize it. When interacting with other people, try your best to use a kind tone.
2. Give a generous tip. If you’re eating out with the kids, leave a tip that is more than expected. Explain that the server will appreciate being rewarded for a job well done.
3. Bake treats for a neighbor. Kids will enjoy baking the goodies and seeing the smiles on the receiving end. Doing this will also lead to a stronger social connection, one of the most important predictors of happiness.
4. Develop empathy. We are more likely to show compassion if we have a better understanding of other people’s perspectives and experiences. Discuss the ways that characters from your favorite books and movies might have different opinions based on their unique backgrounds and situations. When your kids are studying history in school, encourage them to try to understand major events from as many viewpoints as possible. You can do this with current events as well.
5. Write a note of appreciation. Leave a kind message for the housekeeper at your hotel on the notepad by the bed. Have your kids add their own words of gratitude.
6. Serve others. Clean up trash at the park, gather athletic gear for needy kids, or serve food at a food kitchen as a family. Faith communities often have family service projects. If not, you could help get the ball rolling. For more ideas, try the HandsOn Network.
7. Make a micro-loan. Lend money to an entrepreneur in a developing country (or even your own) through Kiva. You can select the country, loan amount, and see the actual person who will receive your money. It feels great to know that your small investment is changing the lives of individuals and communities. Plus, your kids will improve their understanding of geography and global economics.
8. Send a homemade card to Grandma and Grandpa. It could be to celebrate a birthday, holiday, or for no particular reason at all. Most kids enjoy the arts and crafts elements of these projects, and grandparents love to receive them. Talk about the warm fuzzy feeling they’ll have when Grandma calls to say “thank you.”
9. Go green. Reduce, reuse, and recycle when possible. Discuss our role in the ecosystem. Explain that our actions have an impact on other living beings, and that some of these consequences may be felt for generations. When we care about what happens beyond our immediate circumstances, we are more compelled to act with kindness towards others.
10. Follow the leaders. Learn about historical figures famous for their devotion to the common good. Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are excellent places to start. Talk about ways that you could bring their philosophies and actions into your own lives.
Mike Ferry is the author of Teaching Happiness and Innovation. A middle school history teacher in Richmond, VA, Mike is raising four (mostly happy) children with his wife, Jenny. For more information about teaching happiness to children, visit www.happinessandinnovation.com.