Your kindergartner came home from school today in tears because her BFF told her not to sit with her on the bus. Meanwhile, your co-worker bailed on lunch plans again, but managed to find time to have coffee with another colleague. Upon leaving the office, someone cuts you off on the highway and then leans on their horn once they go speeding past.
No, it’s not just you. These days, it seems that bullying and mean-spiritedness have become more prevalent in our culture. Whether it’s at school, in the office or even on the roads, kids and adults seem to be behaving badly, making us lose sight of the right way to treat others. To help break the cycle and show a little more love, consider these suggestions from the kindness experts, just in time for National Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17th) and for use year-round.
For any skeptics that doubt the positive effects of compassion, consider its trickle-down theory. “Research shows that cultivating positive qualities such as kindness, gratitude and joy helps build psychological resiliency and improved emotional well-being,” says psychologist Don MacMannis, Ph.D. (www.strong-willedchild.com). “When people feel good about themselves, they are much more likely to share those good feelings with others.”
Perhaps one of the most natural places to demonstrate kindness is in the home, but as any parent knows, it’s not always easy. But, as MacMannis points out, home is where our kids learn best and so it’s our job to show them how to be loving. “In families, an important key is modeling [kindness], and don’t forget about showing kindness to your partner,” he says.
When connecting with your child, experts say it pays to be in the moment. “You can demonstrate kindness each day by taking time to be fully present with your child, asking them how they’re doing and really listening to what they have to say,” says Jaclyn Lindsey, co-founder and CEO of www.Kindness.org. Encouraging kids to share their feelings also helps promote empathy, which comes in handy when teaching the difference between good and bad behavior. “When they are doing something that isn’t helpful, like taking their sibling’s toys or petting the cat a little too aggressively, encourage them to think about how the other person or pet may be feeling—and modify their behavior accordingly,” she offers.
In the Classroom; At the Office
Empathy is also key at school where kids may not always be thinking kindly of the person whose desk is next to theirs. Seeking out someone that could use a little boost is an easy way to make their day. “Start by asking kids what kindness means to them and help them choose someone to surprise with a kind note,” suggests Lindsey. This gesture can be directed toward a teacher, student or even a teacher’s aide, and can be as simple as a quick word jotted down on a Post-It or a homemade card. “It’s fun, creative and a great way for kids to understand that kindness is something they can choose every day to make both themselves and others feel good,” she says.
The same goes for your office-mates. Treating them as individuals—instead of just another person that shares the daily grind—can lighten one’s load, especially after a rough day. To demonstrate more kindness to fellow employees, think about how you greet them. “Start by saying ‘hello’ and ‘good night’ to your colleagues, and calling them by their names,” suggests Lindsey. If you’re more reserved, do some virtual networking instead. “Try an act of cyber-kindness by sending a thank you or compliment via email, Messenger or Slack.”
Allow for Setbacks
Like anything that’s new, it may seem a little awkward at first when making an effort to be kind. This is especially true when that compassion may not be reciprocated. Experts remind us that it’s okay to feel let down when people don’t live up to our expectations. “Healthy families give each other the benefit of the doubt, assume the best of each other and see the good intentions in other’s actions,” says MacMannis. He points to an example of a child spilling a glass on milk and how we handle the aftermath. “It’s a mistake, not a misdemeanor,” he notes. “It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s out to get you.”
Taking things in stride gets better with practice, and remembering that being kind is a choice that you can pick back up at any time. “Kindness is our inherent nature that we can always return to, but this involves learning effective ways of processing and letting go of upsets in a caring and constructive manner,” he says.