The best way to raise kind kids is to spread acts of kindness with your kids: normalize it, make it part of your family values, have fun with it. Acts of kindness and generosity can start a chain reaction that results in more acts of compassion. For example, paying the toll for the car behind you can result in similar monetary acts of goodwill for other people down the road.
Compassion is contagious, but someone needs to start it. Find a place in your community where you and your child can give your time and energy, whether it’s at the local animal shelter, a school reading buddy program, or a food bank.
If you have trouble finding an organization that will allow you to volunteer in a meaningful way with your child, you can create your own ways to make a difference. The simplest way is devise a plan to raise money to donate to an organization, such as selling art to help send a disadvantaged kid to camp. Another way is to use your time to ask others for needed supplies, such as collecting coats during a cold winter to give to a local shelter.
Simply thinking about a close personal bond with someone else makes people feel more altruistic. It makes them say they’re more likely to help a stranger in need. Social connection makes people more likely to help monetarily. For example, asking people read words that have to do with social connections has been shown to boost generosity toward organizations like the Red Cross.
Giving things away has been shown to make people happier. Toddlers are happier when they give Goldfish crackers away from their own stash to toy puppets than when they don’t share, and giving away their own snacks made them even happier than when they gave the puppets Goldfish from an adult’s stash. Researchers show that giving has the most benefit for the giver when the act meets three interconnected criteria: (1) when you connect to it in some way that is relevant to you, (2) when it actually fills a need or makes a difference, and (3) when you’re not forced to do it.
When people were given $20 and asked to spend it, those who spent the money on others were, at the end of the day, happier. If they kept it, they felt shame and had increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And yet, when asked, the study participants said spending money on yourself will make you happier. Our outlook is misplaced; we don’t value giving enough, and as a result, we will likely keep money for ourselves, thinking it will lead to our own happiness!
Studies like this help nonprofit leaders create great marketing strategies. They’re also a reminder that kids who feel loved and well connected are more likely to give away their time and money to help others, and more giving leads to happier kids.