Today we started our day with a fun loving kindness practice, all thanks to my three-year-old son Anton.
We ate breakfast together in the kitchen and Anton decided spontaneously to send kind wishes to mommy and daddy.
Anton: I wish for mommy that she gets to mow the lawn!
Sweet! Anton thinks mowing the lawn makes mommy happy. *snicker*
He continued …
Anton: I wish daddy gets to sleep really close to me at night!
Awww… I love it and he knows it.
Anton knows how much I enjoy it when we get to sleep close to each other.
He usually sleeps close to mommy, but during the last two weeks I’ve had the chance to go to sleep snuggling with him.
We continued to send kind wishes like this:
Hanna, my wife, wished that I would have a stress-free autumn and that Anton would have a lovely day.
I wished that Hanna would be healthy and that Anton would get to laugh a lot today.
And then … I revealed a SECRET to my three-year-old …
Me: Anton, did you know that you can send kind wishes to yourself?
Anton: What!? You can do that?
Me: Yes, try it out! Go ahead.
Anton: I wish I get to play a lot today.
Me: That’s great. Why do you wish yourself that?
Anton: Because … um … because … it makes me happy!
Me: Awesome. How did it feel to wish yourself something kind?
Anton: It felt good!
Me: How did it feel to send kind wishes to mommy and daddy?
Anton: It felt good :-)
Me: It sure does … and you can send kind wishes to yourself and anyone whenever you want to!
Now, this was a fun way to start the day!
When you start your day like this, you feel energized and connected with your family.
This little session infused the whole day with joy and kindness.
Why it’s good to practice empathy
It’s easy to think that empathy somehow magically rubs off on our kids.
I believe empathy is inherent and it might rub off …
… but, simply telling our kids to be kind will not necessarily make them caring and compassionate.
Patty O’Grady, PhD, an expert in neuroscience, education and emotional learning, says:
“Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it.”
And that’s the idea of loving kindness practice!
It helps you get in touch with the feeling of kindness over and over again.
What many parents don’t realize is that empathy is a skill.
Yes … It is a skill, and we can get better at it.
And when we do, we get all kinds of heartwarming benefits.
Self-kindness = improved mental health
Studies on self-compassion have linked it to greater emotional resilience, more caring relationships and less reactive anger.
Researchers have found out that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.
We had an insightful discussion about kindness and empathy a couple of weeks ago on one of my “Mindfulness for Parents” courses.
I do these courses to help busy parents practice easy-to-do mindfulness activities with their kids and teens.
Anyway, we did a loving kindness exercise together that included self-kindness, and it sparked a discussion about how we as adults often forget to be kind to ourselves.
You probably remember how it feels to be critiqued … at work by your colleagues or even worse, at home by your partner.
YES … it’s really, really stressful.
Well, guess what?
It can be as stressful to be critiqued by your own mind as it is to be critiqued from the outside.
We are oftentimes our own worst critics.
And sadly this happens to kids, too.
This is one major way our minds create stress in our lives.
Not surprisingly, studies say that if we can be kind to ourselves instead, we can feel better and even perform better.
It makes sense, right?
If you think about it … you can probably recognize your own critical inner voice:
“I can’t do this.”
“I’m no good at this.”
“I’ll never learn this new thing at work.”
It can be hard to stand up to your critical inner voices.
Kids have their critical inner voices, too:
“I’m no good.”
“I’ll fail the test.”
“My parents will get so mad.”
Self-kindness is what helps us to deal with our inner critic.
Kindness practice helps us to be less judgmental, reduce negative self-talk and feel better about ourselves.
We can train our brains to be kinder to ourselves and others.
How awesome is that?!
Now, what if I had learned all this as a kid?
How much happier would my teenage years have been?
Had it made a difference for me when I was bullied in 5th grade?
( My head was too big they said … I was called “apple head” and I received beatings. )
Maybe I wouldn’t have believed all the mean things that were said to me.
Maybe I would have been less angry.
And … what if the bullies had learned empathy at school?
You guessed it … experts think kindness training is the way to reduce bullying.
“Mindfulness teaches kids to connect to themselves. When they aren’t emphatic, they aren’t kind to others, or their communities, it’s usually because they’re not connected to themselves.”—Ali Smith, Holistic Life Foundation
Empathy is rocket fuel for relationships.
We listen better.
We judge less.
We think more about how the other person feels.
We learn to relate.
And the end result is that we are happier in our relationships … and as you probably already know … relationships play a key factor in our overall contentment.
Okay, one more thing to persuade you to try out kindness practice …
Kind kids do better as adults
Studies have shown that teaching empathy can make children more emotionally and socially competent, and it can also help them be more successful and high-functioning adults in the future.
A study that tracked kindergarteners until they turned 25 found that kind behavior in kindergarten is a predictor for improved education, job prospects, criminal activity, likelihood of substance abuse, and mental health in adulthood.
Students who were kinder and more co-operative with their peers did better as adults.
So, how do you do it?
You can begin with integrating kindness practice to your day by starting your day with a round of kind wishes like we sometimes do.
And you can introduce the concept of kind wishes (loving kindness) with the following fun mindfulness activity.
Mindfulness for kids and teens: Pass the kindness
Purpose: Kindness, Positivity, Understanding Emotions, Emotional Intelligence
Best For: Ages 3+, groups or one-on-one
What you need: A ball (optional)
This is a fun exercise to do with your child one-on-one or sitting in a ring with a group of kids. Each participant will say something nice to the next kid.
When you play this game one-on-one with your kid, you can sit across from each other on the floor.
1. First ask your child to listen and pay attention to how it makes her feel inside as you say nice things to her.
Take the ball in your hand, look her in the eyes and say something nice.
“I like your smile.”
“It’s so much fun to play with you.”
“I wish you to be happy.”
“I wish you to be healthy and strong.”
Give her some time to pay attention to her feelings.
2. Then, roll or throw the ball to your child and ask her to say something nice back to you and pay attention to how it makes her feel inside saying it.
Do a few rounds of this and discuss what kind of feelings you felt and if you were able to feel them somewhere in your bodies.
You can alter the “game” by closing your eyes when you send kind wishes to see if it’s easier to feel that way.
Then try sending kind wishes to friends and loved ones that are elsewhere. See how it makes you feel.
A great way to end the activity is to send kind wishes to yourself.
“May I be happy.”
“May I be healthy and strong.”
My son Anton thought it was awesome.
I hope that you enjoyed these ideas.
May you be happy and healthy :-)
(See, I’m sending you kind wishes … and it makes me happy to do so!)
Kindness practise is fun.
It does not take a long time to do.
Just do it! :-)
It’s also a fun way to learn to notice emotions.
PPS Here’s an inspiring article about teaching kindness to kids – it’s about a trial done at six schools in the Midwest and it’s SO promising :) -> What if schools taught kindness <-
If you are new to mindfulness with children we recommend our online courses: Get notified here!
Chris Bergstrom is the co-founder of BlissfulKids.com and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator, and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.