Monday, December 16, 2013

Small Acts of Kindness: Counteracting Bullying

Though the holidays seem to be the season in which kindness abounds, kindness should be a part of the very nature of our everyday lives. Before retiring from teaching, one of the projects that I assigned my students each year was my Random Acts of Kindness lesson plan. I required the students, for a period of two weeks, to practice at least 6 random acts of kindness. Three of those acts were to be acts of kindness demonstrated to a stranger (with all precautions for safety and parental guidance being taken into consideration).  I also asked the students to introduce an element of “paying it forward” in hopes that the recipient of their act of kindness would respond by doing an act of kindness for someone else. At the end of the two- week project, the students were to report to the class what their acts of kindness were and what, if anything, the responses were.
Of course some students took it more seriously than others, and the project was a success with them. With others, I decided, it was going to be a work in progress. I persisted in doing the project each year, though, as I saw it as a way of helping children to look outside of themselves and their own little worlds to see that kindness and compassion should always be an important priority. I wanted them to realize that even one little kindness can make a difference in someone’s day and, yes, possibly even in their lives.
In learning of a new study about small acts of kindness, I feel that my student project over the years may not have been an exercise in futility. New research conducted jointly by the University of B. C. and the University of California found that children who perform  small acts of kindness tend to bolster their own sense of happiness and well being. The researchers also surmised that such acts of kindness may even help to counteract bullying behavior.
Approximately 400 Vancouver elementary schoolchildren were asked to report on their happiness after four weeks of participating in one of two scenarios. One group of the nine to 11-year-olds were asked by their teachers to perform acts of kindness, such as sharing their lunch or giving their mom a hug if she appeared stressed. The second group was asked to keep track of pleasant places they visited, such as a playground or their grandparents’ house. While both groups reported a boost in happiness, the children who were kind said they wanted to work with a higher number of classmates on school activities.
The study found that being kind had some real benefits to the happiness of the students. It also had some real benefits to the school community and community at large. Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl stated that those findings mean it’s likely teachers can create a sense of connectedness in the classroom simply by asking students to think about how they can act kindly to others and that may help reduce bullying behavior.
 The take-away from this is that parents and teachers can help foster the personal happiness of children, as well as make a positive impact on dealing with the bullying problem in schools by stressing to their children and students the importance of demonstrating kindness and compassion to others, and that can, in turn, help to reduce bullying behavior.

Picture credit: Julie Ellitot-Abshire

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