We all understand that kids learn by watching their parents and other adults in their lives. If those guiding adults are kind and optimistic, then they will watch and learn. But sometimes we get busy and forget these important behaviors ourselves. Or our kids need extra help learning how to be kind and optimistic. Kindness and optimism are so important in our world and high on the list for making sure our kids practice them.
It feels good to be kind. It’s in our nature to be kind, but we have to teach and cultivate it in ourselves and our children. Kindness not only benefits others, it has positive effects on our bodies and our minds.
Research has shown that doing acts of kindness will:
- make us happier,
- improve immune function,
- change chemical balance in the brain to reduce depression,
- release oxytocin (a happy hormone!),
- decrease inflammation in the body, improving our health,
- helps us feel better about ourselves,
- decrease bullying,
- increase peer acceptance, and
- is contagious!
Talking to your children about being kind is important, but kids learn what they see, so the more they wit- ness and experience kindness, the more they will practice it themselves. Step 7 in My Imagine Journal encourages one random act of kindness every day for 30 days—a great way to ingrain a kindness philosophy into a child’s life. There are hundreds of simple acts of kindness to show and teach kids, www.kindness.org has great ideas. Here are some to begin with:
- Write a thank you card.
- Let someone go ahead of you in line.
- Carry something for someone who needs help.
- Talk to someone new at school.
- Donate food or clothing.
- At a restaurant or store, tell an employee what a good job they did for you.
- Pick up litter.
- Help make dinner.
- Write a poem for a friend.
- Talk to a lonely neighbor.
- Play with a pet (you might even go to an animal shelter and play with the animals there).
- Give your mom a neck or shoulder massage :).
- Tell someone why they are special to you.
Optimism is a mindset. Optimistic people see the positive side of things. It’s not always easy to be optimistic, and it may not always be possible, but it’s important to be mindful around practicing optimism. Some people are naturally optimistic—they are just born that way—but it’s also some- thing kids learn through experiences and watching those around them. Regardless of how negative someone is, they can learn to be more optimistic.
Optimistic people are more successful, resilient, less stressed, and actually live longer. Here are a few tips to help kids be more optimistic:
- Recognize when they are successful and remark about it; refrain from negative remarks about times when they are not successful.
- Help them be successful by having them do things you know they will succeed in. Set them up for success by giving them the tools and teaching them the skills they need.
- When things go wrong, acknowledge their feelings; once they’ve moved through the disappointment, talk about the good that might have come out of the situation.
- Help them reframe failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Ward off pessimistic thinking habits by encouraging positive thinking habits. For example, instead of “Something is wrong with me,” say, “That was a difficult task. I need more help/a new set of skills/better tools.” Instead of, “I’ll never succeed,” say, “I will be better prepared and try harder next time.” Instead of, “All tests are hard,” say, “That test was hard.” Instead of, “I never pass tests,” say, “I didn’t pass the test yesterday.”
- Don’t label kids negatively—give them positive labels. For example, say, “energetic” not “hyperactive;” “sensitive” not “moody;” or “bright, inquisitive, and enthusiastic” not “troublemaker.”
- Watch your own words—keep them as positive as possible.
- Be optimistic yourself—you know the old saying “Fake it until you make it.” Do your best to be realistically positive.
My son, Frank, has a silly game he uses to stay positive called, “The Opposite of That”. When he has a sore throat he will call me and say, “Mom, my throat feels awesome, but the opposite of that!” or when he’s running out of money he will say, “I have so much money in my account, but the opposite of that!” Try it sometime, it’s kind of fun, especially with kids, and it feels much better than just stating the negative truth.
Kindness and Optimism take practice, but they are so important for our children to learn and they make a positive impact in the world. You can begin by using The Imagine Project journals to support your process of emotional health, kindness and optimism. Download the journal here—it’s free and a great writing project for all.
Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.