Flower in child's hand.
Photo by Rachel Bostwick from FreeImages

With this year’s theme of “Explore the Good,” Random Acts of Kindness Week fittingly began on Valentine’s Day. A designated day mid-week to focus on doing good deeds “just because,” is a great time to open kids’ hearts to the power and joy of all-the-time kindness.

Yes, kindness is the way to treat others, but clearly it’s a win-win. Those who extend kindness to others, reap benefits themselves. This past July, Verywell Family published “7 Random Acts of Kindness for Kids: Make Kindness a Habit in Your Family,” by Amy Morin, LCSW. She cites studies showing that “kids who engage in random acts of kindness are more likely to be accepted by their peers,” adding that “Their good deeds improve their well-being and help them develop positive perceptions of their world.”

The article suggests gestures such as donating toys and clothing, making homemade gifts, preparing and delivering a meal for an elderly friend or neighbor. But Morin also says, “Random acts of kindness can be as simple as saying something nice to someone.” The article urges teaching kids to offer people compliments and praise their efforts.

As we might expect, kindness and empathy are closely related. In 2017, Kylie Rymanowicz, in “Children and Empathy: Kindness,” for Michigan State University Extension, writes that empathy, “the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes and understand what they are going through” as well as “feel what they are feeling” has far-reaching implications.

Rymanowicz notes that “With ongoing societal issues like bullying and youth mental health concerns teaching empathy to children is more important than ever.”

To foster both empathy and kindness, it’s also important to begin talking to toddlers and preschoolers about emotions—recognizing their own and other people’s feelings. Activities on the online learning app Anywhere Teacher, such as “Introducing Emotions,” Learning About Emotions,” “Describing My Emotions,” “What’s that Feeling?” and “Identifying Emotions with Charlie [the Golden Retriever],” are great resources for little ones.

Another activity titled, “I Can Help Others,” brings together empathy and kindness; it presents illustrations of different situations, and asks, “What would you do?”

If there weren’t already dozens of compelling, evidence-based reasons for getting kids reading early and often, add empathy-building to the list. In a Discover Magazine article titled, “How Reading Fiction Increases Empathy and Encourages Understanding,” Megan Schmidt reports that “Fiction has the capacity to transport you into another character’s mind, allowing you to see and feel what they do. This can expose us to life circumstances that are very different from our own.”

She also quotes William Chopik, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, who says, “Fiction and stories do a lot of things for us.” Among them he says, “They expose use to uncomfortable ideas…and provide us with the opportunity to take other peoples’ perspectives in a safe, distanced way.” He concludes that “In that way, fiction serves as a playground for exercising empathic skills.”

A Different Tune, a Level 3 Storybook from the Start to Read! series, opens with “Once upon a time, in a land far away, everyone looked alike and did things the same way.” Kids learn that being different from everyone else can be a wonderful gift.

In the iOS e-book from the same series, Benny’s Baby Brother, a big brother changes his mind about the newest family member, learning that we can both change and manage our feelings instead of our feelings managing us.

Why is it so essential to teach and model kindness and empathy? Another Verywell Family article titled, “Ways to Teach Your Kids Kindness: How You Can Teach Kids to Be Kind to Others (and Why You Should), notes that kids “tend not to think too far ahead” and are also naturally self-centered, meaning “they aren’t always able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.” It goes on to offer some great tips and wraps up by saying that “When you encourage kindness in your child, they will feel better not only about the world they live in but also about [themselves].”

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Week/Day and beyond, consider posting this wonderful anonymous saying somewhere prominent: “Kindness: it costs nothing but means everything.”