The Benefits of Kindness and Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom
There are so many impressive reasons why kindness and social and emotional learning (SEL) is being recognised as an essential component of the school curriculum that it's difficult to list them all. Here is what we feel is a fairly comprehensive list.
It's proven that kindness and giving act like a natural anti-depressant because they release serotonin in the brain. Serotonin plays an important part in learning, memory, mood, sleep, health and digestion. It provides children (and adults) with a heightened sense of well-being, increases energy and gives wonderful feelings of positivity and self worth.
"Adolescents who identify their primary motive as helping others are three times happier than those who lack such altruistic motivation. Similarly, teens who are giving are also happier and more active, involved, excited, and engaged than their less engaged counterparts."
- Christine Carter, Ph.D.
Researchers found that being kind benefits givers by not only improving well-being but also popularity. The study succeeded in increasing both happiness and peer acceptance among preadolescents through a simple pro-social activity with 9- to 11-year olds. As peer acceptance is of high importance among youth, being well liked also increases feelings of self-esteem and inclusion. The study also concluded that students who are happy and well-liked by classmates exhibit more inclusive behaviours and less externalizing behaviours such as bullying.
Interestingly, another study that tracked 681 students showing kindness toward strangers, friends, and family determined that being kind to strangers increased self-esteem more than pro-social behaviour towards family or friends.
"Generous behavior reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk, and several studies have shown that teenagers who volunteer are less likely to fail a subject in school, get pregnant, or abuse substances. Teens who volunteer also tend to be more socially competent and have higher self-esteem."
- Christine Carter, Ph.D.
Studies prove that today's generation of teens are more narcissistic than in previous times. A lack of empathy is largely blamed but experts say that self-absorbed behaviour can be curved through kindness activities that teach children to care and see through someone else's eyes. In other words, children who learn to be givers in a world where they're conditioned to take appear to be less likely to catch the "it's all about me" virus.
"According to a 2010 University of Michigan study, teens are 40 percent less empathetic than they were three decades ago, and in the same period, narcissism has increased 58 percent. And that’s bad news for our children.
We might be producing a smart, self-assured generation of young people, but today’s kids are also the most self-centered and stressed on record."
- Dr. Michele Borba
Better Physical Health
According to Dr David Hamilton, Ph.D. "acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.
Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective."
"Research has shown that a simple act of kindness directed toward others improves the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness and the person extending the kindness. Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved!"
- Dr Wayne Dyer - The Power of Intention
Less stress, anxiety and depression
Because kindness produces feel-good emotions that make children happy it can be seen as a natural antidote to stress, anxiety and even depression. Science explains it as increase parasympathetic activity which allows the body to relax and regenerate.
"Since depression, anxiety and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focussing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking. Having a positive effect on someone else can increase our self-esteem and give our life a greater sense of purpose."
- Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D.
Fewer Disruptions and More Time
When children get along they’re able to work together in a calm and sensible way. Students who are happy and feel supported are less likely to disrupt the class to gain attention. Less time spent on discipline gives teachers more time to teach.
Better Results & Greater Attendance
A lot of time and energy can be lost when children are feeling stressed and worried. When they're happy and feel good about themselves and their learning environment they have fewer worries to distract them. Children who are able to concentrate on their learning are generally able to achieve better results. Feeling a sense of achievement and value makes children look forward to coming to school.
"Studies show that meaningful opportunities for service not only improve school attendance and test scores, but also foster kindness and positive attitudes toward cultural diversity. Service with the greatest potential to produce such outcomes involves face-to-face helping relationships sustained over time."
- Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D.
Kind children know that making others feel good makes them happy too. They want to be around those who treat them with respect and know what it means to be a good friend. Kind children are well liked, have more friends, are more included, feel better about themselves and are therefore less likely to bully.
A study in Vancouver involving 19 classrooms had students aged 9- to 11-year perform three acts of kindness (versus visit three places) per week over a 4 week period. It was noted that the well-being of all students improved but those involved in acts of kindness experienced significantly bigger increases in peer acceptance students who visited places.
"There is a correlation between higher rates of bullying and schools with limited SEL focus. More than half of teachers (54 percent) who say there is too little emphasis on SEL also say bullying is at least somewhat of a problem, compared to only 37 percent of teachers in schools with the right amount of emphasis on SEL. On the other hand, only 26 percent of teachers in schools successful at developing SEL say bullying is a problem."
Increased peer acceptance relates to a variety of important academic and social outcomes, including reducing the incidence of bullying. It is recommended that "teachers and interventionists can build on this study by introducing intentional pro-social activities into classrooms and recommending that such activities be performed regularly and purposefully."
Improved Teacher Well-being
Happy, co-operative children, create peaceful and productive classrooms, an essential component for reducing stress for teachers. Students who feel good about their environment are more likely to show respect, want to please and connect with their teacher.
Positive School Culture
A sense of belonging and inclusion is a fundamental need for any human being. Performing acts of kindness promotes empathy and compassion to help strengthen bonds with other students and teachers to create a positive and relaxed environment.
"The 2013 survey of teachers commissioned by CASEL found 93% of teachers want a greater focus on SEL in schools. These educators know that social and emotional skills are teachable and are calling for schools to prioritize integrating SEL learning practices and strategies into the curriculum as well as school culture."
"Teachers in schools where social and emotional skills are not taught are nearly twice as likely to report school climate as a problem as teachers in schools where it is taught on a systemic basis."
Incorporating Ripple Kindness Project for Schools into your classroom makes the process of teaching kindness along with social and emotional learning and mindfulness fun and stress free.
We provide easy to follow instructions and useful resources to help you boost emotional intelligence and well-being to improve happiness and academic outcomes. An initial investment of time reading through our supporting documentation will reap great rewards for many years for not only your students but for teachers and the wider school community.