Raising Children: The Physiology Behind Kindness

It's more than skin deep . . . and the science proves it!

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Raising Kind and caring children
Raising Kind and caring children

In a survey conducted back in 2019 on American parents and what they wanted for their children, over 90% of them noted that their main priority is to teach their children to be caring[1]. This study affirms the notion that kindness is held in high regard within our society. But, more importantly, it shows that empathy for others is still preserved as moral virtue within our society. 

It is easy to pass off this claim as nothing but the norm or nothing but natural. However, kindness is more than skin deep. There is the chemistry behind it. And if you understand the chemistry and physiology behind kindness, as a parent or caring adult, you are better equipped to help your children grow up being kind, caring, and empathetic. 

The Different Types of Kindness

Back in 2018, a study was conducted by psychologists at the University of Sussex. The study involved examining brain scans for over 1000 participants[2]. The study revealed that individuals benefit from acts of kindness regardless of whether they happen to be strategically motivated or altruistic. This finding introduced the two types of kindness – altruistic and strategic kindness.

Strategic Kindness

This form of kindness stems from something being gained from a specific act of kindness.

Altruistic Kindness

It is a kindness that comes willingly from an individual, without them expecting anything in return.

The study noted that a part of the brain is more active when people share acts of kindness without expecting anything in return, which leads us to the fundamentals of compassion – the science of kindness.

The Science of Kindness

As social animals, we, as human beings, need others’ kindness to get by and survive. This is the case with every other mammal and bird. At birth, we are hardly self-sufficient, which means that in infancy, should we lack the essential maternal care, along with the care of others, we would perish pretty quickly[3]. With this in mind, it is easy to conclude that kindness is a basic need for us as human beings. As mentioned earlier, this is because it is more than skin deep. Studies have shown that even on a cellular level, we respond to kindness. This is why our nervous system is wired so that an affectionate touch from someone we like or from a person we are close to or love activates the posterior insular cortex and the cingulate cortex. It makes us feel relaxed, calm, and safe. Should we get the same touch from someone we do not like, the effect is quite the opposite[4].

Child Upbringing and Kindness

Having looked at the science behind kindness, the different types of compassion, and just the overall fundamentals of kindness, it is important to now look at why, at the very least, you should strive to practice kindness and integrate it into your overall way of raising children. The one thing that everyone should know is that kindness is contagious

In an article by Jamil Zaki, published back in 2016, he noted that people tend to make more extensive charitable offerings when they believed that others around them were generous instead of when they felt those around them were stingy[5]. Zaki further noted that when people cannot afford to donate, a single person’s kindness can trigger other people to spread positivity differently, without money.[6].

If there is anything to draw from this study by Zaki it is that kindness is always contagious. It applies whether one’s company is made up of adults or children. The impact is all the same. This means that should you exercise kindness around your children; they will pick up those traits and practice empathy, not just then but also way into their adulthood.

The Nature of Kids

Children are not able to see the bigger picture. Kids are tuned to only focus on what is in front of them. They hardly ever think too far ahead[7]. As such, they may not realize the impact of their actions or what certain detrimental behaviors such as bullying, meanness, and exclusion might have on their peers. 

Children are naturally self-centered. It means, without guidance, they would never put themselves in someone else’s shoes or even consider what the other party might be feeling. This is something that parents ought to know, understand and remedy, by teaching the kids all about kindness and being kind while around them.

Children are bound to pick up on what the adults around them are doing. For the longest time, infants and toddlers have been regarded as the world’s best “copy cats,” simply because they learn by watching those around them[8]. First, they pay attention to the world around them; they observe how their parents and caregivers behave, picking up certain traits and implementing them in their lives.

As a parent or caring adult, you should be careful about how you act around the children in your life. The old adage, “Children will do as you do, not as you say,” rings true. 

 If you want them to grow up being kind, it would be best to exercise kindness yourself. Be kind to everyone, including your kids, and they will grow up being kind. They will carry on that trait for the rest of their lives and pass it on to their kids when the time comes. Kindness runs more than skin deep. It is way more than just an attitude or an overall way of thinking. It is psychological and physiological. The sooner you, as a parent, recognize this, the better it will be for you to raise the child into a kind member of society.

References

Borenstein, S. (2020). Not so random acts: Science finds that being kind pays off. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-random-science-kind.html 

Nankervis, N. (2021). The science behind the ‘warm glow’ of kindness – ABC Everyday. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/the-science-behind-the-warm-glow-of-kindness/11749268 

Petrow, S. (2018). How a ‘kindness contagion’ improves lives, especially now. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-a-kindness-contagion-improves-lives-especially-now/2018/10/26/25a723ea-d3b7-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html 

Shrier, C. (2014). Young children learn by copying you!. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/young_children_learn_by_copying_you 

Stiefel, C. (2005). What Your Child Learns By Imitating You. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/what-your-child-learns-by-imitating-you/ 

UNESCO. (2021). The Science, Theory and Practice of Kindness: A Brief Overview. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://mgiep.unesco.org/article/the-science-theory-and-practice-of-kindness-a-brief-overview 

Zaki, J. (2016). Kindness Contagion. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kindness-contagion/ 

  [1] Borenstein, S. (2020). Not so random acts: Science finds that being kind pays off. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-random-science-kind.html 

[2] Nankervis, N. (2021). The science behind the ‘warm glow’ of kindness – ABC Everyday. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/the-science-behind-the-warm-glow-of-kindness/11749268 

[3] Petrow, S. (2018). How a ‘kindness contagion’ improves lives, especially now. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-a-kindness-contagion-improves-lives-especially-now/2018/10/26/25a723ea-d3b7-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html 

[4] UNESCO. (2021). The Science, Theory and Practice of Kindness: A Brief Overview. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://mgiep.unesco.org/article/the-science-theory-and-practice-of-kindness-a-brief-overview 

[5] Zaki, J. (2016). Kindness Contagion. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kindness-contagion/ 

[6] Zaki, J. (2016). Kindness Contagion. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kindness-contagion/ 

[7] Stiefel, C. (2005). What Your Child Learns By Imitating You. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/what-your-child-learns-by-imitating-you/ 

[8] Shrier, C. (2014). Young children learn by copying you!. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/young_children_learn_by_copying_you 

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