Kindness feels more and more of a rarity these days, that the words “random acts of kindness” and ”restoring faith and humanity” have become media watchwords. Why is it that altruism has become something to be celebrated than the default state of human behavior?
This perceived deficiency in our daily lives has been decades in the making. Scientific research has conclusively proven that acts of kindness for the so-called feel-good emotions – provides lifelong tangible benefits in terms of physical, emotional, and mental health.
Human beings are rewarded for showing kindness by our own bodies; therefore what about society can inhibit this biological imperative?
Human beings are predisposed to kindness, however children and adolescents only learn kindness by doing it, not in any abstract way but in feeling the fulfillment of doing the right thing. At the same time, children and teenagers may be taught to be cautious about showing kindness lest their benevolence be abused.
The family is the building block of society. It is at school however, that children learn to deal with other people as equals, and come to appreciate differences. Educators have a responsibility to allow students to train themselves in kindness to become healthy, happy, and well-adjusted individuals.
Children that Care are Happier Children
The good feelings we get from being kind is due to the release of endorphins in the brain. The pleasure centers of the brain thus stimulated are those that are associated with achievement, trust, and social connections. The cheerfulness that comes with unforced kind and courteous behavior can even be infectious, spreading from giver to recipient and “paid forward”, encouraging more kind behavior even beyond the classroom.
Reinforcing Sense of Belonging and Self-Esteem
Being kind means increased ability to form meaningful emotional connections with others. Kind and happy children enjoy greater acceptance with their peers, in turn feeding into their enjoyment from life and confidence in tackling new challengers and working together with others for a common goal.
Improving Health and Reducing Stress
Human beings are seemingly designed to “live on the milk of human kindness”, as being kind triggers the release of the pituitary hormone oxytocin, with a wide range of benefits for a person’s physical and mental well-being. The “so-called love hormone” creates the feeling of calm and closeness, eases stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps moderate inflammation and the build-up of free radicals that hasten the aging process. For children, they also benefit from easier sleep, improves social skills, reduces aggression, and amplifies memory retention.
Reducing Depression and Anxiety
Apart from oxytocin, kindness also triggers the release of serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter chemical that regulates mood. A deficiency in serotonin levels is seen as one of the factors responsible for depression. In addition, serotonin also influences the cardiovascular system, improving coordination and sharpens focus. It can be considered a natural antidepressant, not just in helping others, but as a receiver of kindness and companionship.
Kindness is the antithesis of bullying, and children and adolescents that have the habit of exhibiting kindness are more secure in themselves and more protective of others. Insecurity and beings excluded from positive social groups often leans to children lashing out against authority and victimizing each other to achieve that feeling of being in control.
Teaching kindness and compassion for the pains and fears of others, prevents bullying on two fronts: it addresses the anxieties they feel and they may seek to resolve conflicts on their own to create a friendly and inclusive school environment.
Kindness fosters an attitude of optimism and resilience in the face of temporary setbacks. As educators, we have a responsibility to teach more than just academic skills and knowledge, but also to nurture how the next generation will shape society. Once again more a society less fearful, less cynical, more generous and more tolerant of others is not beyond reach.
Emily Ko is a primary school teacher and co-founder of Reaching Teachers (http://reachingteachers.com.au). When Emily isn’t working, she is planning a traveling or dining out at one of her favourite restaurants.