Written by Jennifer Grant
If you had the power to choose, would you rather your child graduate from high school with a perfect GPA or, on commencement day, be named the kindest kid in school? (No cheating; you can’t pick both.)
If you’re like me, you’d choose option two.
Maybe part of the reason for this is chemical. Research shows that when we perform a kind deed—or even see someone else do good—our brains’ pleasure and reward centers light up, releasing endorphins that leave us bathed in a sense of well-being. While witnessing any kind deed does this, when the person performing it is our child…well, I’d argue our brains release an extra strong shot of those feel-good chemicals. We were truly made to be kind, and the way our brain chemistry was created is just one confirmation of this.
Engaging in acts of kindness not only lowers blood pressure, but also lowers stress and anxiety levels. People who perform acts of kindness live longer, experience less depression, and are more aware of their life purpose and its value than those who don’t. Also, kindness is contagious—when we act in a thoughtful, considerate, or merciful way, the person to whom we’ve shown this kindness goes on to treat others similarly.
As Amelia Earhart said, “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” In a too-often violent and divisive world, kindness truly matters.
And kindness matters to God; it’s mentioned over and over in the Scriptures. When we witness kindness, the Bible says, we’re seeing God’s Spirit at work. God asks us to clothe ourselves in kindness and to prove ourselves by demonstrating kindness. (Galatians 5:22, Colossians 3:12, 2 Corinthians 6:6)
And, happily, kindness muscles can be trained. Researchers say that the more we practice kindness, the more often we want to do good for others. Our ability to empathize with others grows and we become less self-involved and more interested in meeting other people’s needs. To build our compassion muscles, we can start small. Smiling at a stranger, wishing someone well, or holding a door open for the person behind us affects positive change. Even expressing thanks when someone is kind to us strengthens those muscles.
So if we’re created to be kind and if kindness can be learned, how can we raise kind children? The most famous of St. Francis of Assisi’s quotes is, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” As is so often the case in parenting, this holds true in raising kind children; the best way is through our actions…not our words. Let your kids see you volunteering to help a neighbor, feeding quarters into a stranger’s expired parking meter, or leaving your phone tucked away in the check-out line so you can give the cashier and bagger the gift of your full attention.
These acts, however small, will be contagious, leaving those around you with a sense of God’s own heart, and modeling to your children what kindness truly looks like.
JENNIFER GRANT is the author of five books for adults, including Love You More and When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? She also wrote Maybe God Is Like That Too, a picture book for young children. Learn more or connect online at jennifergrant.com.