What is kindness?
Kindness is about caring for others in an empathic and considerate manner. It is a virtue recognised in many cultures and religions as a great human value. As parents and teachers, one of our greatest hopes is that our children will be kind and that when they have a choice to help others, we hope they will do so spontaneously. We would never want our children to be considered cruel, intolerant, or prejudiced and we strive to raise thoughtful, empathic, gracious, kind individuals.
“Be Kind whenever possible.
It is always possible.”
Scientific studies have shown that kindness has a great number of physical and emotional benefits. It is well recognised that acts of kindness evoke feelings of happiness in the giver and receiver. Scientifically speaking, kind acts release endorphins that stimulate the brain areas associated with pleasure and trust. The hormone oxytocin can also be released by acts of kindness and has been found to play a significant role in the cardiovascular system, helping to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure and reducing free radicals and inflammation. Research has also determined that kindness increases our ability to form meaningful connections with others.
Kindness is one of those qualities in life that has a much bigger impact in the grander scheme of life than most of us realise. Great thinkers from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Dalai Lama have all had something to say about the importance of kindness and helping others. Maria Montessori believed in kindness and respect to her very core. She worked with children who were classified at the time as “un-teachable” and helped them master skills that had been thought to be totally beyond their abilities. She respected them immediately and provided them with an environment full of kindness.
But let’s face it. It’s not always easy to be kind. Even us grown-ups don’t want to share our toys sometimes! Helping others can seem hard when we feel like we don’t have the help we need ourselves.
Why should we teach kindness?
Qualities such as kindness and empathy teach a child what it is to be a good friend, how to relate to others, how to recognise the needs of others and the why behind these qualities. All children need to feel their own sense of worth and belonging. Human beings have an innate need to contribute in meaningful ways within their families, as well as the community around them. Children who have a sense of importance and belonging are more likely to make positive choices and have a healthy self-esteem.
“When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for,
but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”
Teaching empathy is an important part of a child’s social and emotional development. Empathetic children are willing to listening to their peers, have a better understanding of feeling and are open to compromise, while those that are still acquiring the skill might have more difficulty understanding the needs of others. While social and emotional intelligence come more easily to some than to others these intelligences are just as important to nurture as fine motor, language, and math skills. Maria Montessori recognized that children need to learn wisdom, virtue, honesty, responsibility, compassion, justice, courtesy, patience and humility and these characteristics are explicably taught and nurtured in a Montessori environment.
Empathy & Montessori
At the core of Montessori’s philosophy is the emphasis of teaching children how to take care of themselves, each other and their environment. The children learn to be a part of a community, where getting along with others is extremely important. Learning to function in a peaceful, caring community is the backbone of a harmonious Montessori classroom. Teaching a child to be kind, respectful and empathic are vital skills that every Montessori teacher works hard to achieve by reinforcing the values of kindness and respect every day through role-modeling, grace and courtesy lessons as well as role-playing. A Montessori classroom is a nurturing and respectful environment and practitioners are very careful about how they behave in front of children.
“They (children) will imitate us in any case. Let us treat them, therefore, with all the kindness which we would wish to help develop in them”
Children look up to all the important people in their lives and emulate their behaviour. That is simply how they learn. When it comes to being a positive role model for your child, ask yourself: Am I behaving in a way that I would want my child to act? Lead by example. Children need to see adults being kind and empathetic in order to understand what this really looks like. Children observe, listen and follow. As parents, you have the most influence of anyone in your child’s life, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Take the time to look at ways in which you are kind (and ways you’re unkind). Be aware of the need to be kind and act accordingly. Your children will follow suit.
Another powerful building block to teaching kindness is teaching your child to label emotions. Labelling emotions helps your child understand their feelings and that leads to an understanding of others’ feelings. Young children fill their worlds with books, music, learning to talk, and playing. Use those same activities to foster kindness by infusing those activities with kindness. When reading books with your child, point out the facial expressions and tone of voice used in dialogue. Label the expressions and talk about a time when you have felt those emotions.
“If we remember that others too are human beings like us, we can extend a sense of kindness even towards those we think of as enemies.”
Uniting > Dividing
Teach children to look beyond themselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race and our religion. By recognising and embracing our commonality, our connection with every living thing, focusing on what we have in common – not our differences – we hope that they will find that we are all citizens of the same world, sharing likenesses and developing empathy and kindness for others. We love it when we see children spontaneously helping each other at school. Whether they help a friend clear up a spillage or tuck in a chair, tidy away or help each other to put on shoes, it means that they are demonstrating the value they place on their community and social environment. When an older child helps in presenting materials to a younger child you can visibly see how much pleasure they get from acting as a ‘teacher’ and how they grow in stature and self-esteem. The secret to kindness is when it is modelled and taught with passion and purpose. When we help and encourage our children to put kindness into action through thoughts, words, and deeds, the world will truly be a more peaceful and gentler place to live.
20 things to try together!
1. Pick up litter.
2. Let someone go ahead of you in line.
3. Plant something.
4. Hold the door open for someone.
5. Walk dogs at the animal shelter.
6. Check in on an elderly neighbour.
7. Donate outgrown clothes.
8. Weed or shovel for a neighbour.
9. Donate a book to a doctor’s office waiting room.
10. Say hello to everyone you see.
11. Sing songs at a nursing home.
12. Invite someone to play on the playground.
13. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
14. Share a special toy with a friend.
15. Reuse paper when you are drawing.
16. Donate colouring books and crayons to the children’s hospital.
17. Ask for donations instead of birthday gifts.
18. Collect books for the library.
19. Make a homemade gift for someone.
20. Smile at everybody. It’s contagious.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems
Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Jane & Caterina are part of the Little Gems Montessori team in Nicosia. Both are natural Montessorians inside and out and often rolemodel the several layers of kindness to the children. If you'd like to know more about our approach to kindness, empathy and compassion, get in touch! 999 50070 and firstname.lastname@example.org