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The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children

The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children

by Dale Atkins, Amanda Salzhauer
The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children

The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children

by Dale Atkins, Amanda Salzhauer



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In homes and school communities nationwide, there is re-energized interest in the values of community, compassion, and tolerance, and in finding our way to a kinder culture—a culture that starts with our families. Headlines speak of hate crimes, intolerance, and us-versus-them divisiveness.

Recent political events have left many Americans yearning for unity, respect, and compassion in our national discourse. In our schools, bullying continues to be a pervasive problem, and in our homes, "screen-time" poses a constant threat to 'family time.' Research shows that connection and social engagement are key to successful, fulfilling lives, and yet we have never been less connected than we are now.

Perhaps more than any other group, parents recognize the potential damage of this trend. Children who are raised in a culture where giving and compassion are valued become happier and more positively engaged with those around them.  They are less likely to treat others disrespectfully. With increased concern about meanness and bullying, you may be among the many parents who see the need for more civil, respectful, and considerate behavior among our children.

The Kindness Advantage is a practical and concrete guide for you to equip your child with the skills they need to have a positive influence on the world. We all benefit when children are raised with the understanding that they can have an impact by making conscious choices. It's never too early to start your child on a path of fulfillment through meaningful connection with others.  Designed to be read with children as young as four, the book presents ten fundamental concepts to weave into your family's daily life. Using text, quotes, questions and real life stories, The Kindness Advantage is the first book parents need to think about and teach the necessary skills to be a kind, compassionate person. Each idea on its own is simple and unintimidating, yet together they form the powerful foundation parents need to go beyond teaching "please" and "thank-you" to form kindness habits that will last a lifetime. In a world where kindness is so greatly needed, 

The Kindness Advantage offers inspiration and activities to teach kids empathy, inspire a culture of compassion and connection, and empower children to make a difference in their community and the world.  

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757321009
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/11/2018
Format: eBook
Pages: 168
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Dale Atkins and Amanda Salzhauer's book, The Kindness Advantage, can serve as a partial antidote to these turbulent times. They remind us that kindness is both a moral behavior that can improve the status of the world, but also be advantageous to the individual who practices kindness. The book's blend of significant and relevant issues in psychology, education, and humanism provides a myriad of practical suggestions to help us raise kind children. The book will serve as a resource to parents and educators. By teaching the components underlying kindness children can be provided a framework where we can both teach and weave these crucial lessons into the lives of children. Amanda R. Salzhauer, MSW, has worked as a social worker in clinics and private practice. She has been a member of several nonprofit boards, including Riverdale Neighborhood House and the Board of Overseers for the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact. She has three children and lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


Why Kindness?

No kind action ever stops with itself.

One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed.

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.

The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.

— Amelia Earhart, pilot

Why kindness? That's a good question. Here's the short answer: because kindness leads to a lot of other good things like compassion and happiness, future success, better relationships, improved self-esteem, and good mental and physical health. And don't we all want that for our children, our families and our community? In this chapter, we'll look at the research that supports the specifics of the longer answer.

So how does nurturing kindness in our children make for happier kids, more harmonious homes, and a healthier society? As we will discuss further, empathy is one of the foundations for kindness. Empathy is the connection with another person that enables us to experience what they are thinking or feeling. Children as young as eight months old respond empathically when witnessing their mothers in distress. In one study, researchers reported: "all of the infants showed genuine empathy in emotional and cognitive ways." In research-based community programs designed to foster social and emotional sensitivity in very young children, such as Roots of Empathy, empathy is taught by focusing on feelings of others. This important skill helps make for happier homes and families. Through these programs, families from different backgrounds get to spend time together in a natural way.

If you have been book shopping over the past several years you won't be surprised to know that the field of happiness is thriving. What you may not know is that psychologists have been studying happiness for many years. In the last thirty or so years, these scientists have begun to examine what makes people happy, thrive, and flourish. "Research shows that performing positive activities such as expressing gratitude and doing acts of kindness boosts happiness." Although much of this research has been with adults, children are now becoming the focus of more studies. One recent pioneering study with nine- to eleven-year-olds underscored the benefits to children who perform acts of kindness on a regular basis. The researchers found that these children, in addition to seeing positive changes in their academic experience, were more socially accepted. You could probably have guessed that those might be some of the benefits to the individual child; they are obvious. What may be less obvious is the benefit to their entire community. From engaging in acts of kindness, these children tend to be more inclusive and less likely to bully others as teenagers. By nurturing our children to be kind, we are taking the first step in building happier, more harmonious communities.

Another study of kindness and happiness explores the "feedback loop" between them. "The practical implications of this positive feedback loop could be that engaging in one kind deed ... would make you happier, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act." Another version of this phenomenon is the "helpers high" first described by Allan Luks as "the powerful physical feelings people experience when directly helping others." Three major aspects of the helpers high are the release of endorphins, a feeling of satisfaction, and overall improvement in physical and emotional health. Anyone who has done something kind for another person knows that it feels good. Now we have the science that tells us why.

In various studies to support this, scientists notice changes in the brain when people think good thoughts, do kind acts themselves, or even observe other people performing kind acts. Endorphins or "feel good chemicals" are secreted in our brain; these secretions improve our mood. Another important hormone in this process, and one that is directly related to social connection, is oxytocin. It works in concert with serotonin, one of the endorphins released in the helper's high. "When it is operating during times of low stress, oxytocin physiologically rewards those who maintain good social bonds with feelings of well-being." Another interesting aspect of this hormone is that when it is released during a stressful or painful time in someone's life "it may lead people to seek out more and better social contacts." It is pretty amazing that we now know that when people are looking for ways to feel better when they are stressed or in pain, helping others will help them, too. Through MRI scans, researchers can see that when you help someone, a specific region of your brain lights up. This gives you a feeling of "warm glow" which underscores the emotional benefits to kindness.

Did you know that volunteering could improve your health and help you live longer? A major government study of adults who volunteer found multiple benefits to physical and mental health such as improved cardiovascular function, increased sense of purpose and life satisfaction, and lower rates of depression. According to statistics compiled by the National Philanthropic Trust, approximately 25 percent of the adult population in the United States volunteer with the top four areas being religious, educational, social service, and health organizations. Much of the research on volunteerism has been done with older adults, not surprising since they often have more time.

The growing research on children in schools gives us insight into the positive effects they experience when helping others. Over the past twenty-five years, Service Learning (SL), has become a popular and meaningful way that students of all ages can become engaged in community service through their schools. Barbara Jacoby, a leader in the field of Service Learning, defines it as "a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve desired learning outcomes." There are positive results about the effects of service learning programs on young people. "Students participating in SL programs demonstrate significant gains in five outcome areas: attitudes toward self, attitudes toward school and learning, civic engagement, social skills, and academic performance. These findings bolster the views of educators who posit that SL programs can benefit students at different educational levels in several ways. These multiple benefits include such areas as enhanced self-efficacy and self-esteem, more positive attitudes toward school and education, an increase in positive attitudes and behaviors related to community involvement, and gains in social skills relating to leadership and empathy." Students who have these gains understand first-hand the value of kindness and connection, which enables them to be contributing members of their communities. Sounds good to us!

There are so many reasons that kindness is important. At its essence, kindness allows us to develop awareness of and sensitivity to others. Having concern for others and being able to show that concern through our thoughts and actions will help us feel connected to those around us. This is not a new phenomenon. It was Charles Darwin, who within the context of survival mechanisms, understood that we have an instinct to be sympathetic and caring. To respond compassionately to someone else, we need to observe and understand what they are experiencing. In his book, The Altruistic Brain, Dr. Ronald Pfaff states, "... how scientifically reasonable it can be to rely on the idea that we are wired from infancy to 'do the right thing' Even though we are hardwired for it, we need to work at it. With practice we can get really good at acting with kindness.

Do you remember the "Golden Rule"? Most of us, regardless of our different faiths and backgrounds, are taught this adage from a very early age. The Parliament of World Religions, the oldest, largest, and most inclusive convening organization of the global interfaith movement has opined on this topic. In 1993 they created their Declaration Toward a Global Ethic, a document that reiterates their commitment to the ideal of the golden rule. But how often do we actually ask ourselves, "How do I want to treat other people and how do I want to be treated?" At a time when we see so much rude behavior in the headlines and all around us, and targets of bullying are getting younger and younger, the world might be a better place if we asked that question more often. Kindness is really important now. And each act of kindness makes a difference.

Even the smallest gesture of kindness communicates to someone that we respect and value them. As we model kindness for our children, and offer them their own opportunities to practice it, they will become more open to and understanding of others. With this mindset we are more likely to meet and connect with different kinds of people creating bonds that might not have formed otherwise. This can work in both directions, with our openness attracting other people to us as well. The Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn is often quoted as saying, "Compassion is a verb ... Compassion and action go hand-in-hand." We look for ways to be compassionate, kind, and helpful so we can change the world and make it a better place. That is The Kindness Advantage, and as we discussed above, we are wired for it.

"Even three-month-old infants evaluate others based on their social behavior towards third parties." Researchers at The Baby Lab at Yale University have conducted numerous studies with infants as young as three months old. Through a series of studies referred to as The Climber Studies, babies responded to "helpers" and "hinderers" who interacted with a character attempting to climb a hill. These infants showed a clear preference for the "helper" indicating their understanding of helping another in need. There is also evidence that toddlers feel good when they give to others. One study found "that before the age of two, toddlers exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves."

In a different study of children of a similar age watching a familiar adult "playmate" who was playing with a teddy bear that became "injured," it was found that children "have access to the inner experience of other people, and they are socially competent to intervene in another's favor." Isn't that remarkable? Clearly, these studies support the emotional preference for and desire to help that children experience from a very young age. "Studies suggest that perhaps kindness doesn't need to be taught anew as much as supported more continuously from an early age." That is why we believe it is never too early to start modeling, reinforcing, and incorporating kindness into our everyday lives. The words of renowned psychologist and researcher Dr. Richard Davidson are compelling: "I would say from everything we know from a neuroscientific perspective, it's very important to begin as early as possible. We know that the brain is more plastic earlier in life. That is why it's easier for young children to learn a second language than it is for adults; it's why it's easier for young children to learn to play a musical instrument than it is for adults. Young children's brains are inherently more malleable; they're more flexible."

Research has shown that in the chaos of daily life, while focusing on reinforcing their children's achievements, parents of preschoolers can miss their child's acts of kindness. We will help you train yourself to be alert to those expressions of kindness that are so important and often missed. In addition, because we spend so much time with our young children we have a unique opportunity to set a positive example and nurture the foundation for kindness within our families. Being kind can make us feel good, help us feel connected to others, and give our life meaning. That is why taking action now will give your child The Kindness Advantage.


Setting a Positive Example

We are all born with an innate capacity for language, but the expression for language requires that we be raised in a linguistic community. And similarly for kindness and compassion, we are all born with these seeds, but it requires that they be nurtured, and if they're not nurtured, they will atrophy. And so one of the roles of contemporary training is to nourish these seeds so that they do blossom and flourish, and there is scientific evidence to suggest that it is possible.

— Dr. Richard Davidson, psychologist on Upaya Conversations podcast 802 "Innate Kindness" with Joanna Harcourt-Smith.

Want to help your kid develop a desire to help make the world a better place? The best way to do that is to encourage, teach, and demonstrate what it means to be kind to and care about others. Before you begin, it is important to reflect on your own life and understand what shaped your attitudes about caring. Read through and think about the questions below. When you are ready to write down your responses, these questions and room to write your answers are in the Journal Pages at the end of the book.

Are your attitudes about caring ones you want to pass down to your children or is it time to rethink them?

Think about when you were your child's age. Who do you remember being kind to you? What did they do? How did that make you feel?

When you think about someone kind and compassionate who comes to mind? What did you observe them do? What did you learn from them? Were there ways you felt you could be like them? As you think about this person now can you describe what makes them seem so kind?

When you were growing up, how did people in your family show that they cared for others?

Think about ways you showed kindness to others when you were a child. What did you do? How did other people respond?

Now that you are a parent, where is kindness demonstrated in your family's everyday life?

Describe ways you notice how other families show caring for others?

Where do you see room for more kindness in your everyday life?

Now that you have had a chance to reflect on where some of your own attitudes have come from you're ready to focus on your child. Here are some ideas to keep in mind as move forward.

Start at Home

The most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child's home.

— William Temple, Bishop

What starts a conversation about helping others? Anything can. Let the conversation unfold naturally. It could be a news story that touches you, or your child may come home from school with a question or concern about something that happened that day. Listen and respond positively without judgment when children bring their observations to you. You can create an environment where everyone, adults and kids alike, is encouraged to share ideas and question what they observe. By doing this, you will help your child become aware of the needs in their school or community. This awareness may be the first step to becoming involved.

When your child is engaged in an activity or project at school, use it as an opportunity to discuss what and whose need is being met by their efforts. Ask questions. "How is what you're doing making a difference?" When they talk to you about something they've seen that concerns them, you can ask "Can you think of something you can do about that?" and "Is there a way I can help you?" Remember, we are all in a position to help others and these experiences are part of the kindness advantage.

Your Child Is Listening

Words convey our attitudes and feelings about others and the way we view the world. There are many differences among people, including race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical, and mental differences. How do you talk about people who are "different" from you or your family? Many of us focus more on how we are different from, rather than similar to others. Be conscious of the language you use when describing people. You may not even be aware of the impact the things you say about others has on your child.

Similarly, the way you express a feeling you have about a situation, whether you are discouraged or hopeful, impacts your child. If you talk about problems as insurmountable, your child is less likely to feel his or her efforts will make a difference. If you have a positive attitude about helping and are hopeful, your child is more likely to feel encouraged and have a sense that change is possible. The point is that children will develop their own ideas in great part based on what they hear you say.


Excerpted from "The Kindness Advantage"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Dale Atkins, PhD, and Amanda Salzhauer, MSW.
Excerpted by permission of Health Communications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface, 00,
Introduction, 1,
Part One: Getting Started,
Chapter 1: Why Kindness?, 00,
Chapter 2: Setting a Positive Example, 00,
Part Two: Take It In,
Chapter 3: The Fundamentals of Kindness, 00,
Part Three: Taking It Further,
Chapter 4: Approaching Tough Conversations, 000,
Chapter 5: Finding "Formal" Experiences, 000,
Chapter 6: The Importance of Relaxation: Tools for Breathing, Visualization, and Meditation, 000,
Chapter 7: Troubleshooting, 000,
Conclusion, 000,
Resources:, 000,
List of Citations, 000,
Journal Pages, 000,
Acknowledgments, 000,

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