Behavior & Development • Jan 14, 2013

Raising Kind Kids – A Popular Decision

What does it take to be popular at school?  A new research study suggests that kids who are kind are also popular, debunking the common belief that you have to be mean to be popular.

The study took 19 classrooms of tweens in 4th and 5th grade and divided them into two groups.  The first group performed 3 acts of kindness each week for anyone they wished, and the second group (the control group) visited 3 places of their choice each week.  Although all kids had more positive emotions at the end of the 4 week study, the children who performed acts of kindness experienced significantly larger increases in peer acceptance (or sociometric popularity).

The take-home message from this study is that we can and should teach kindness.

The kids in this study were actually taught to be kind, they didn’t just “naturally” decide to be kind.  I find this especially intriguing because we seldom talk about teaching kindness.   We teach kids not to bully, but we don’t teach them how to be kind.  The children in the study were given examples of acts of kindness, such as hugging your mom when she seems stressed out and sharing your lunch.  Then, they were given specific expectations—thee acts of kindness per week.  Finally, they were held accountable for these expectations through surveys.  It seems counter-intuitive to require kids to do acts of kindness, but in the end these kids were happier and more popular.  We require kids to do lots of things that they don’t want to do, like homework and chores.  But I’ve never before heard of required acts of kindness.

How to Teach Kindness

So how can we teach our kids to be kind at home and at school?  Here are three simple steps that come directly from the study:

  • Set expectations: “I want you to do one nice thing for your brother today.”  Make acts of Kindnesskindness a family requirement, like chores.
  • Give examples: “Put away your brother’s coat for him, share your candy, or do one of his chores.”
  • Hold them accountable.  Talk about your acts of kindness at dinnertime or bedtime.

I also sat down with a group of experienced moms, many with four or more kids, all of them with kind, well-liked children.  I asked them how they teach kindness.  Here’s what they said:

  • Set a good example.  If you are mean to your spouse you can’t expect your kids to be nice to each other.
  • Play together, as a family.  Try sports or Monopoly.  Laugh a lot.
  • Encourage multi-age interaction.  There is nothing like a baby to bring kindness out of even the grumpiest, most stubborn child.
  • Reclaim chivalry.  Teach young men to open doors for women and pull out chairs.  Teach young women that it’s okay to accept such kindness.
  • Have a “no tolerance” policy in your home for unkind words and actions.  Don’t be afraid to hand out stiff punishments to kids who are mean to siblings.
  • Teach your kids what “hate” really means.  Kids don’t “hate” broccoli, they don’t like broccoli.  Hate is a strong word and only use it when you mean it.  Three families I spoke with actually don’t allow their kids to use the word “hate” at home.
  • Be careful about media exposure.  Even books like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” make humor out of unkind kids.

What random acts of kindness have your children done?  How do you teach kindness in your home or school?  Do you really think that you can be popular and kind at the same time?  Please tell us in the comments below!