Raising a kind child means investing in a quality that will enhance your little one's well-being and emotional health. This Children's Day, remember that kindness starts with being ‘happy to help’.
By Kalyani Krishna
While delivering a lecture, the chairperson of Infosys Foundation, Sudha Murty spoke about an interesting practice adopted in their household.
“My daughter Akshata is a shopaholic and keeps buying a lot of dresses. As a parent, I make her understand the luxury she enjoys is a result of hard work put in by her parents and many of our employees. As a rule, every time Akshata adds new dresses to her wardrobe she should also give an equal number of her apparel to those in need. I still go by the advice that late J R D Tata gave me when I left my job to assist my husband in leading Infosys. He told me, 'You are only a trustee of money and it always changes hands. When you are successful, give it back to the society that gave you so much goodwill.' Today, we are running a successful software business and it is our turn to inculcate the same values in our children.”
Now, that was a really ‘kindhearted’ statement by one of the most respected personalities in India. As has been defined globally on multiple platforms, ‘an act of kindness' is a spontaneous gesture of goodwill towards someone or something — our fellow humans, the animal kingdom and the kingdom of nature. When we carry out an act of kindness, it is a message from one heart to another, an act of love, an unspoken 'I care' statement.
Psychologists believe that kindness is a natural antidepressant. An act of kindness boosts the levels of serotonin, a chemical that boosts learning, memory, mood, sleep, health and digestion. When kindness becomes a habit, it has a ripple effect on various aspects of an individual’s personality.
A kind individual is more likely to be happy and healthy, build positive relationships, experience life satisfaction, develop healthy self-esteem and, most importantly, feel a sense of control over life. A study by researchers Arber Tasimi of Yale University and Liane Young of Boston College in the US looked at how kindness affects children. According to them, when children think about the good deeds they have done, they feel encouraged to indulge in many more such acts in the future.
With many benefits to be derived from being kind, it is an important quality to nurture in children. A lot of research points to the fact that all children are born with the gift of kindness. However, the habit of indulging in kind acts seems to decline by the time they reach class 4. By this age, self-interest drives children’s deeds more than doing good to others.
Unlike popular perception, research proves that the amount of joy a child derives from being kind to someone far outweighs the joy he experiences when someone else is kind to him. When children are givers of kindness, there are greater chances of enhanced friendships and reduced bullying, a win-win scenario. This clearly suggests that we, as parents, need to teach our children to be givers of kindness.
Like everything else, the concept of kindness too has undergone a change with time. Dr Alok Bajpai, Consultant Psychiatrist at IIT Kanpur and a well-known Gandhian makes interesting observations on the subject. He says violence and kindness have always been a part of human nature. However, the brain is structured with ‘mirror neurons’ also known as ‘Gandhi neurons’ that help a person understand others’ emotions like pain and suffering. He adds that although being kind, altruistic and sacrificing has been an integral part of Indian culture, a sudden change in the country’s economy in recent years has transformed the thinking pattern of the Indian community. Dr Bajpai adds, “It is interesting to know that India has transformed drastically in the last 25 years, and so did Indian thinking. We have started emulating the American model of happiness while the western world has started embracing value-based education. India is now making a full circle and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to help children grow up into good humans. Encourage children to do small deeds like letting others go first in the queue, opening doors, and sharing books with friends during exams.”
Kittie Butcher, an educator at Michigan State University, believes kindness can be encouraged through practice. In a paper published by the university in December, she recommends parents to act as role models of selfless behaviour. The author says that children should be encouraged to practise kindness. The art of kindness should start with self and at home.
Aparna Balasundaram, Psychotherapist, and founder of Life Skills Experts,, says, “Children should be made to understand that we have a support system both at home and outside. It is important to explain that the services offered by our household help, milkman, or newspaper vendor make a big difference to our lives. A little word of praise to them, or a Thank you’ would help a child to develop greater levels of emotional intelligence.”
A kind person extends this attitude not just to fellow humans, but also to the environment and animals.
Research conducted by the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Riverside, looked at what makes children happy. As a part of the study, several hundred children in the age group of 9–11 were asked to record three acts of kindness every week, for thirty days. Not surprisingly, those who performed acts of kindness gained an average of 1.5 friends within one month. The study concluded that acts of kindness make tweens happier.
Goldy Manoj, a fashion designer and a mother of three from Chennai, believes that being kind has helped her children develop positive relationships with peers.
Her older daughter aims to be a cardiologist like her father and has an extensive reading habit. She constantly shares study materials with her friends and believes in collective effort for a great future. This practice has made her quite popular in school. Goldy's other two children also try to emulate their sister. She adds that her children are aware of the lack of medical care for the economically weak sections of our society. So, her children are always ready to part with their pocket money whenever they hear about the poor being denied medical care due to lack of money. They also happily donate their toys and clothes to those in need.
What if your child is not kind to others? Don’t worry, assures Dr Nithya Poornima, assistant professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bengaluru. “Babies below the age of one year generally don’t mind sharing, as they are yet to understand the meaning of ‘possessiveness’. Kids start showing traits of 'belongingness' from around one and a half years of age and it continues till the age of four. Parents should encourage them to share and help other kids, instead of being unkind or unwilling to help others,” says Dr Poornima. She further explains that every child behaves in a different way and it is, therefore, imperative for parents to understand the nature of their children. Patterns of kindness and sharing change with age.
Dr Poornima also cautions against labelling children. “Do not label your child as selfish. When the child is in a good mood, the parent should try to explain the pros and cons of being self-centred or exhibiting rude behaviour. Many a time, stories come in handy to explain the essence and beauty of kindness. It is also important to make the child understand the ‘happy feeling’ that comes from an act of kindness,” explains Dr Poornima.
However, being kind comes with its own share of challenges. The overtly kind nature of some children can land them in trouble. It may lead to an emotional struggle that can make them anxious. If you feel that your child is being taken for granted by peers due to his kind nature, teach him how to deal with the situation. If you see he is emotionally overwhelmed, sit down for a serious discussion. Make him understand the difference between being kind and taken advantage of.
Aparna Balasundaram says, “There is a lot of difference between being kind and a ‘people pleaser’. It is definitely a life skill, but you should also learn to say ‘No’ when you are being taken for granted. Do not be disrespectful to yourself in an attempt to help others. Any relationship and the subsequent emotional traits should be developed on trust and not on disrespect and helplessness.”
To conclude, let our children take inspiration from eight-year-old Martin Richard who lost his life during a bomb explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013. The young lad believed in peace and kindness and he valued the poster made by him at school that read: ‘No More Hurting People’.
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