As rates of bullying, substance abuse, anxiety and depression are increasing among teens and pre-teens, psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison believe they have found something that can decrease the likelihood of these issues from a young age.
The study found that the skill of kindness can be taught, just like the alphabet and numbers.
“It’s fundamentally no different than learning how to play the violin or learning to do sports,” said Richard Davidson, director of the Center for Healthy Minds and creator of the mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum to help preschoolers pay closer attention to their emotions.
Unkind actions often begin when a child struggles with their own emotions, the study found.
One part of the curriculum, which Davidson tested on a group of preschoolers, involves tuning into bodily sensations and learning to identify and respond to them in an appropriate way, Davidson said. A technique used on the students is belly breathing — learning how to take slow breaths with a rock on their stomachs.
“We found that kids who went through the kindness curriculum behaved more altruistically,” Davidson said.
Children in the curriculum were found to have a better attention span, better grades and show a higher level of competence.
Emily Golliher uses the curriculum in her elementary school and said it’s vital for childhood development.
“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,” Golliher said. “If we can spend time and teach students how to be kind to themselves and to be kind to others, that is just going to have a ripple effect across the school environment.”
To teach your child the belly-breathing trick, put on some quiet music and have them lie down and take some deep breaths — slowly inhaling and exhaling. Putting a rock or toy on their tummies can help them focus and calm down quickly.
The Kindness Curriculum is free to download and is available in English and Spanish.