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JANUARY 2021

The Power of Connection and Kindness

The Mental Health & Recovery Services Board sends newsletter articles to our local schools as a resource on relevant topics for parents and their students. This is the most recent article.

Humans need connection to others. As far back as we can trace, humans have always lived and thrived in social groups. Connection to others helps us live in harmony which has always been important to our survival. It’s crucial to our mental and physical health

 

When we seek support, the courage to share one’s story is a vulnerable yet transforming experience. Even a long hug or looking into someone’s eyes can create closer connections. These connections help us heal. Connection strengthens our immune systems, creates lower rates of anxiety and depression, and improves self-worth. Lack of social connection does more harm to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.

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Because our brains require social connection, they have the ability to make us aware of the emotions and need of others. This is empathy. Empathy helps us connect better with others and be kind to each other. But we know feeling empathy doesn’t guarantee connection to others or altruistic action. We must be committed to empathy and actively use it. Kindness is more than empathy or sensing someone else’s pain, it’s doing something about it. 

Encourage Connection and Kindness

Research shows humans start out with a capacity for kindness but there are barriers. Studies also show children’s self-centeredness and tribalism can hinder kindness. Tribalism is a preference for those who look and act like us. Cultivating consistent kindness in children, especially those who aren’t like them, is up to parents and teachers. Here’s how:

1. Develop empathy. Be curious about other people. Ask questions to connect more. 

    • “What are you passionate about?” “What's your story?” “How are you taking care of yourself?” “What is causing your anxiety lately?” “What do you do to relax?”

    • Make it about the other person, not about you. Listen when they speak, observe their actions and reactions, and validate their feelings.

 

2. Create environments where kindness can flourish.

    • Don’t reward kind behavior. Happiness is its own reward and better develops kind behaviors. Giving rewards for helping behavior makes kids less likely to help again.

    • Make sure adults are modeling kindness toward youth and each other. Youth can be motivated by adult behavior to act on their natural capacity for kindness.

3. Take it seriously when youth hurt each other in any way. Give clear instruction on what hurts others and how to avoid that in the future.

    • “You hurt Oliver. Pushing people down hurts. Never push someone.”

    • “You called Emma cruel names on Snapchat. Calling people names is bullying and hurtful. Don’t use those words to describe anyone.”

 

4. Express gratitude. Saying “thank you” is not the same as rewarding a person. It’s its own gift and helps strengthen connection to others.

    • Start class or dinner with everyone sharing one thing for which they’re grateful.

    • Write thank you notes for your children or students when they show kindness. 

    • Have your children or students keep a gratitude journal.

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If you are in crisis call 1-800-567-HOPE (4673) or text 741 741.