If you want your kids to be happy, teach them to be kind and give to others.
That’s right. Being nice promotes happiness.
In fact, in study after study in the United States, Canada, and Europe, research shows that performing random acts of kindness—and other not-so-random acts that take more planning—actually makes good-deed doers feel terrific.
And happily for families, the kindness-happiness connection produces similar results for children.
Kindness Feels Good
You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you are kind to others? Kids can experience that too.
Scientists call this sensation a “helper’s high.” You feel it when you walk a neighbor’s dog, drive an extra carpool run, or help a senior citizen navigate a busy intersection. In much the same way, kids can feel similar joy when they retrieve a friend’s toy, pick up a sibling’s bottle, or help mom fold clothes.
This is what we know about kindness:
- Being kind to others offers a bigger boost to givers than to receivers.
- Kind and compassionate people are often the most successful.
- Those on the receiving end of kindness often “pay it forward,” helping others who were not initially in that loop.
- People experience greater happiness when they spend money on other people than when they spend money on themselves.
- Performing five random acts of kindness can increase happiness for up to three months.
Kindness Starts Early
Little ones may be hard-wired for caring behavior.
One intriguing experiment out of Germany has suggested toddlers may be innately altruistic.
Reporting on their findings, researchers Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello said children as young as 18 months who were pre-linguistic or just-linguistic “quite readily help others to achieve their goals in a variety of different situations.” Writing in the journal Science, the investigators said, “This requires both an understanding of others’ goals and an altruistic motivation to help.”
So what can you do to take advantage of that natural instinct and teach your kids to be kind and caring? Try these tips:
1. Brighten someone’s day. Model a warm “hello” that kids can repeat when they greet their caregiver, playmates, or teacher each morning.
2. Remember others. Help kids call, email, Skype, or FaceTime grandma and grandpa.
3. Inspire giving. Set aside canned goods, cookies, juice, and cereal. Take your kids along when you deliver items to the local food bank.
4. Embrace gratitude. Remind kids to put the sitter, the librarian, or the parent in charge of carpool onto their I-need-to-thank-them list.
5. Reward efforts. Dole out a thank you and a warm hug when kids pick up toys or books they weren’t responsible for dropping.
6. Tell them to smile like crazy. It’s a terrific way to make others feels great.