DETROIT – A new study suggests students don’t just learn math, science and reading at school -- they can learn to be kind, as well.
Rates of bullying, substance abuse, anxiety and depression are growing among teenagers and pre-teens. Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison believe they’ve found a way to decrease the likelihood of those problems from a very early age
“It’s fundamentally no different than learning how to play the violin or learning to do sports,” said Richard Davidson, PhD, the director of the Center for Healthy Minds.
Davidson developed the mindfulness-based “kindness curriculum” for preschoolers to help them pay closer attention to their emotions. Unkind actions often begin when a child is struggling with their own emotions, experts said.
“Part of the curriculum involves being able to tune into sensations in the body and learn how to identify them and respond to them in an appropriate way,” Davidson said.
One technique is belly breathing, during which children learn how to take slow breaths with a rock on their stomachs.
Davidson tested the curriculum with a group of preschoolers.
“We found that kids who went through the kindness curriculum behaved more altruistically,” Davidson said.
He also said children in the curriculum had a longer attention span, better grades and a higher level of social competence.
“We need to make sure our students are feeling safe and feeling loved so they have the ability to feel safe enough to learn in the classroom,” instructional coach Emily Golliher said.
She uses the kindness curriculum in her elementary school and said it’s vital for child development.
“If we can spend time and teach students how to be kind to themselves and kind to others, that is just going to have a ripple effect across the school environment,” Golliher said.
To teach a child the belly breathing trick, put on some quiet music and have them lie down. Tell them to take some deep breaths, slowly inhaling and slowly exhaling. Putting a rock or a toy on their stomach can help with focus, experts said.
The kindness curriculum is free to download. It’s available in English and Spanish.