The importance of kindness

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by Stephen Ilett, Headmaster of Port Regis
Port Regis

When I am asked by parents and prospective parents what qualities of character I think are important to instil in children today, kindness is one of the first I mention. Academic success and other achievements, however important, will not be enough to see children through the twenty-first century world in which they will live, work and, we hope, thrive.

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Kindness is seen by some as an old-fashioned value but research studies have shown that it has significant physical and emotional benefits and that children need kindness to flourish as healthy, happy and well-rounded individuals. This is particularly the case in a boarding school environment where children live in close proximity and have to get along.

At Port Regis we held a Kindness Month, encouraging all members of the school community to carry out random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. This initiative was an extension of the national Random Acts of Kindness Day. Post boxes were placed throughout the school and when someone was the recipient of an act of kindness they posted a note in the box. Each caring action wasn’t rewarded by a prize but recognised and praised to encourage the importance of being kind and generous to each other. This was a huge success and the longer-term benefits have been noticeable.

Benefits of kindness

So why is teaching kindness so important and why have we highlighted it within our curriculum? There are a great number of benefits and some very compelling reasons for doing so.

Improved health and decreased stress: The act of being kind can trigger a release of the hormone oxytocin which in turn reduces stress, decreases blood pressure and improves the cardiovascular system.

Reduced depression: Equally as important is the impact on mental health. The good feelings we experience when being kind are produced by endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that activate the brain regions associated with pleasure. Research has been shown that these feelings, known as the ‘helpers high’, are contagious, encouraging more kind behaviour on the part of both the giver and recipient.

Happiness: A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic were happiest overall.

Better concentration and improved results: As well as health benefits, research has also shown that kindness results in better levels of concentration and performance in the classroom. The sense of wellbeing it promotes plays an important part in learning and memory.

Increased peer acceptance: Research has shown that kindness increases our ability to form meaningful connections with others. Kind, happy children enjoy greater peer acceptance because they are well-liked.

Greater sense of belonging and improved self-esteem: Even small acts of kindness can heighten our sense of wellbeing and give a feeling of optimism and self-worth.

Increased feelings of gratitude: Being part of projects that help those who are less fortunate, provides children with a sense of perspective and helps them appreciate the good things in their own lives.

Less bullying: Many traditional anti-bullying programs have little impact because they focus on the negative actions that cause children to bully each other. Teaching kindness and compassion in schools fosters more inclusive school environments. It has been shown that the effects of bullying can be significantly reduced by integrating kindness-based programmes in schools.

Positive relationships: Kindness and empathy help us relate to other people and have more positive relationships with friends, family, and even strangers we encounter in our daily lives.

So besides improving personal relationships, kindness can actually make us healthier and happier. It’s becoming increasingly clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics and that altruistic qualities should be nurtured as a matter of priority. Kindness can be taught and belongs in every school.

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