Boosting mental health with acts of kindness

February 17th is National Random Acts of Kindness Day. It is celebrated across the country and inspires gestures of kindness in many individuals, businesses, and schools each year. Kindness can create positive reactions in both the receiver and the giver. It is the perfect time to teach students about this critical SEL skill, and the benefits kindness has on our mental health because sometimes it's the smallest gesture that has the most significant impact.

Random Acts of Kindness day began in Denver, Colorado in 1995 and was created by a small nonprofit organization. By 2004, it had spread to other parts of the United States and New Zealand. The idea behind the random acts of kindness was to brighten someone's day and make the world a little better by conscientiously infusing kindness into our everyday lives. The actions can be as simple as encouraging someone with a compliment or bringing a tray of cookies to work, and it is a way to promote the trait of kindness within all of us.


Kindness as an SEL skill


Kindness is an essential social and emotional learning (SEL) skill that students should be taught from an early age. Many schools have started initiating kindness programs into their curriculum to help change school climate and culture. Kaplan et al. (2016) explained that SEL kindness curriculums benefit many areas within the school and the student's community. This study focused on a kind mind (the mental experience), self-kindness (self-awareness), social-kindness (empathy for others), and kindness in action (gestures towards others).

This Kaplan et al. (2016) study used concept mapping and determined that incorporating kindness into the classroom had many positive outcomes in the schools and the families. As teachers instructed students in the four tenets of kindness, students began resolving conflict without an adult intervening, were able to concentrate for more extended periods, and developed coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations. The study also noted that teachers were absent less and got along better with each other, the campuses were cleaner and felt safer, and there were more cross-cultural exchanges. In addition, families reported that siblings had a better relationship with each other, and students communicated more frequently with their parents.

In a similar study, Flook et al.(2015) found that the effects of a three-month mindfulness-based kindness curriculum initiative were also positive. The curriculum focused on self-regulation and pro-social behavior skills, and the benefits included higher report card marks in "learning, health, and social-emotional development" (Flook et al., 2015, p. 44). Other benefits observed were social competence and delayed gratification. Researchers concluded that kindness programs were promising for various academic and social areas.

There are also mental health benefits to incorporating a kindness curriculum into the school week. Using a kindness scale survey measuring school kindness, school belongingness, positive emotions, and depressive symptoms, Datu et al. (2021) discovered that kindness programs that encouraged kindness amongst the student body increased positive emotions and decreased depression. Because of the social skills students were taught in the classroom, students learned to include others, encourage others, and do for others. This, in turn, helped students feel a sense of community within the school body which led to emotional "well-being and other indicators of psychological thriving" (p. 7) Dr. Waguih William IsHak, an expert in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai stated that kindness makes us feel better because it triggers the release of oxytocin which helps people form bonds and trust. Oxytocin injections are used to treat anxiety and depression. Dr. IsHak says that mindful-based therapy is an alternative to injections. In mindful meditation, patients document gratitude and acts of kindness, and this therapy effectively treats several mental health conditions (Cedars-Sinai Staff, 2019).

 

Students learned to include others, encourage others, and do for others. This, in turn, helped students feel a sense of community within the school body.

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Random acts of kindness and SEL for the Classroom


Research proves that districts should add SEL curriculum to classrooms to benefit both staff and students' mental health and school climate. There are curriculums available for schools that encourage students to focus on kindness. Satchel Pulse is one such program that measures students' SEL gains and provides a curriculum that improves students' social awareness and relationship skills, amongst other areas. The Satchel Pulse intervention library offers a variety of lessons that will assist in cultivating kindness within the student body.

On National Random Acts of Kindness Day, schools should encourage students to consciously demonstrate kindness to others. Staff can remind students to use positive and encouraging comments. Teachers can spend mindful moments allowing students to praise one another and appreciate each other's differences. Students can also use specials' time to write thank-you notes for teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Staff and students can spend a few moments picking up trash on the playground together. The acts of kindness do not have to be time-consuming, expensive, or extensive. These few simple suggestions can be highly effective in brightening someone's day.

While National Acts of Kindness Day is set aside to remind all to be kind, it should not be the only day set aside for kindness. Each day students and staff should be purposeful in treating one another with respect and kindness. Dr. IsHak says, "Biochemically, you can't live on the 3-to-4-minute oxytocin boost that comes from a single act. That's why kindness is most beneficial as a practice—something we work into our daily routine." Remind students every day that when they help others, they are also helping themselves. "The rewards of the acts of kindness are many, and by being kind, we are building better selves and better communities at the same time" (Cedars-Sanai Staff, 2019).

Click meReferences

Cedars-Sinae Staff . (2019, February 13). The science of kindness. Retrieved February 12, 2022, fromhttps://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/science-of-kindness.html.

Das, A. (2021, February 17). Random acts of kindness day: History of the day, quotes of kindness. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://www.timesnownews.com/the-buzz/article/random-acts-of-kindness-day-history-of-the-day-quotes-of-kindness/721223.

Datu, J. A., Mateo, N. J., & Natale, S. (2022). The mental health benefits of kindness-oriented schools: School kindness is associated with increased belongingness and well-being in Filipino High School students. Child Psychiatry & Human Development. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-021-01299-z


Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 44–51. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038256


Kaplan, D. M., deBlois, M., Dominguez, V., & Walsh, M. E. (2016). Studying the teaching of kindness: A conceptual model for evaluating Kindness Education programs in schools. Evaluation and Program Planning, 58, 160–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.06.001

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