ARTICLE: Introducing “World Kindness Day” a event to be celebrated with Liz Bates
Did you know it is World Kindness Day on November 13th ? Asks Liz Bates
And of course November 13th is also the start of Anti-bullying Week.
With ‘Make a noise about bullying’ being this year’s slogan perhaps it is also time to ‘make a noise about kindness’.
There is no escaping the rise of unkindness in its most evident, explicit and toxic form.
The internet has allowed anonymity to enable a ‘no rules’ onslaught of unkindness which is almost impossible to challenge.
Then at the other end of the scale are the minute by minute, everyday choices that are made, to be unkind. And that is the root of conversations we can have with children – that unkindness is a choice and, crucially, so is kindness.
Scientific studies have shown that kindness has a great number of physical and emotional benefits and that children require a healthy dose of good, positive feelings in order to flourish as healthy, happy, well-rounded individuals.
Kindness can change our brains by simply experiencing it. We can think and talk about kindness but that is not enough.
Experiencing kindness is the best way to learn about it.
- increase positive behaviour and help to create warm, inclusive environments where children can feel safe, secure, noticed and listened to, where children can belong
- increase the likelihood of forming relationships, children are more likely to be accepted if they are well-liked – kindness is a pro-social skill
- change a viewpoint when helping others less fortunate
- produce endorphins activating parts of the brain that are associated with pleasure – this can lead to good feelings
- lead to a release of oxytocin – this can increase individual levels of happiness
- result in ‘helper’s high’ increasing a sense of self-worth
- increase levels of serotonin which can affect mood and other aspects of health
and all of these can lead to better mental health.
Giving and receiving kindness are equally important. Being kind to others feels good, as does someone being kind to you. And not to be forgotten is being kind to ourselves, which I will come to shortly.
Remember ‘kindness can be catching’.
The more children see and hear adults and other children ‘modelling’ kindness the more normalised those behaviours become. I am more likely to be kind to someone else if someone has been kind to me (replace kind with unkind and that too is true).
What we do and what we say are our choices, so we can talk with children about this, asking, “Why would someone choose to be unkind if we have a choice to be kind?”
Because 99 times out of 100 there is a choice.
We can interrogate the reasons that someone might have for choosing to be unkind. We can look at kindness as an active choice, not a passive act. ‘I am choosing to do this…I want to say this….why would I do or say something else instead?’ Let’s see kindness as a superpower which we all have.
There is plenty more on this in Cool to be Kind: A Storybook and Practical Resource for Negotiating the World of Friendships and Relationships such as exploring the language of kindness and I will say a little more here about that, the words we choose to say.
Language is a very powerful instrument. The words we choose to say can be helpful or harmful.
We can speak words of encouragement, praise, inspiration and enthusiasm. We can also speak words of threat, hatefulness, put downs and criticism.
And once unkind words have been said they are hard to take back.
They can sometimes leave a mess that is very hard to clean up – imagine that words are like eggs. We have to treat them carefully – if we don’t they can leave a horrible mess.
We also have to own the words that we say – they belong to us, no-one else.
If we make a bad joke or say an unkind thing we cannot then blame the other person for not getting the joke or being upset, the unfeasible “can’t you take a joke?” ‘defence’. They are our words and we have to take responsibility for them.
So the language of kindness:
Is positive and supportive.
Is clear, with a shared understanding, so it isn’t misunderstood.
Is inclusive and does not deliberately exclude.
Belongs to us – what I say are my words, I choose to say them so they are my responsibility. I cannot blame anyone else for the words I choose to say.
Kindness isn’t about agreeing with or liking someone else but about accepting them and upholding their right to feel safe. It is about an absence of cruelty, meanness and nastiness. But if we do get it wrong it is important to forgive ourselves and commit to doing better and getting it right next time. Just like anything else, the more we practice, the better we get.
We know that nurturing the moral development of children has both positive individual outcomes and also positive outcomes for others, for the group, for their peers, for the classroom, for the school, and kindness is a fundamental building block in that development.
As is our modelling of behaviours, and of language; the thousands of micro-moments we have when interacting with children. As adults we show children kindness – why wouldn’t we?
As well as talking about what kindness means, try introducing a regular ‘kindness reflection’.
In schools this could be done on a Monday morning and Friday afternoon.
Head on table, eyes closed (if the child/children feel comfortable doing this)
Spend 1 minute thinking about:
The kind people you know
Kind acts that someone has done for you
A kind act that you could do for someone
How do you show kindness?
What more can you do to be kind or show kindness?
What can you do today or this week that is kind?
And on Friday afternoon….
What have you done this week that is kind?
What can you do this weekend that is kind?
There are some children whose unkind narrative is a repetition of what has been said or done to them by others – both adults and children. A child who is unkind to others may be repeating the unkindnesses done to them. And may be reinforcing those unkindnesses to themselves. Self-kindness also needs to be cultivated, looked after and, as alluded to earlier, practiced. It is about being sensitive to our own feelings as well as the feelings of others, particularly negative feelings and negative thoughts.
Some children can be self-critical to the extent that it prevents them from developing, moving forward and achieving. This self-criticism might be said aloud and heard by others, but it is often hidden in the head of the child.
Their anger, frustration and disappointment is reinforced by their internal voice, thus maintaining the negative emotions and potentially making them worse. Supporting these children will include challenging negative self-talk and helping them to not necessarily believe their thoughts – learning to challenge that voice in their heads, the internal monologue that may be unfair and unrealistic. Helping them to move towards accepting themselves.
There are activities and strategies we can introduce such as ‘Mean Mate’ and ‘Patient Pal’, all of which are described in detail in Cool to be Kind and the accompanying adult resource.
And finally, as Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
For much more on raising awareness, activities and lesson plans:
Cool to be Kind: A Storybook and Practical Resource for Negotiating the World of Friendships and Relationships
So have a think about what you can do to raise the profile and make a noise about kindness in your setting and celebrate World Kindness Day, not just on November 13th, but every day.