Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Science now shows what children have always known about this adage: it is blatantly false. Words can hurt—even at a cellular level. They can also heal. Some important experiments in kindness show us why kindness is so important. Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto proved the power of spoken words in some unusual experiments. He used Magnetic Resonance Analysis technology and high-speed photographs to document the effects of loving, compassionate words and intentions on water as well as what happens when water is exposed to hateful and unpleasant intentions. He spoke words like love, grace, and thank you over ordinary tap water and then froze droplets to view under a powerful microscope. The frozen droplets had formed beautiful crystals. But when he said hate, ugly, and stupid to the same tap water and froze it, the droplets formed ugly and chaotic patterns. His work is documented in his book The Hidden Messages of Water.
In another experiment, Dr. Emoto poured water over a quantity of rice in three different beakers. Every day, he said “thank you” to the first beaker, “you’re an idiot” to the second beaker, and completely ignored the third beaker. After one month, the rice in the first beaker began to ferment and give off a pleasant fragrance. The rice in the second beaker turned black. The rice in the third beaker began to turn green and rot. Dr. Emoto concluded that these results have serious implications for humans, especially children. Specifically, he suggested that his work shows how important it is to interact kindly with children to nurture them. Being rude or ignoring them can cause damage.
My grandson’s second-grade teacher conducted experiments in kindness with her class early in their school year to show her students the power of their words. She planted identical pansy flowers in each of two identical clay pots using soil from the same bag. She then set up identical grow lights for each plant in the windowless classroom. Each plant received the same amount of water on a given schedule. The flowers were put on opposite sides of the room where they (yes, the plants) could not “hear” what would be said to the other.
Throughout the day, children periodically spoke to each flower. To Flower A, they said affirmations of their choice. Statements such as, “You look nice today,” “I like what you did with your hair,” “You did a good job on that math problem,” “I like the way you helped that student at recess,” “It was nice of you to sit with the new student at lunch,” and so on were said to Flower A daily. Statements such as, “I hate you!”, “Why can’t you learn how to do this?”, “You still don’t know how to tie your shoes? That’s so lame!”, “Your hair looks stupid,” “You’re too dumb to play with us,” “It’s your fault we lost that game,” and so on were said to Flower B. After days of these positive and negative statements from the students, the results were astounding. Flower A was growing, healthy, and beautiful. Flower B lost all its petals.
Research shows that when we perform acts of kindness, we change at a cellular level, producing hormones and endorphins that cause us to become happier, calmer, and healthier. When one person performs an act of kindness to another person, both people benefit from the release of these hormones and endorphins. But the benefit doesn’t stop there. Studies now show that when other people simply witness good deeds, they are also filled with the same healing hormones and endorphins. So being a kind person can make an important impact on other people.
Can Kindness Be Taught?
As an educator, I know that anything can be taught to anyone. The questions we must ask are:
How can kindness be taught?
Who is responsible for teaching kindness?
Should kindness be taught in schools?
When parents model kindness and encouragement, their children will learn to interact with others in a kind, loving way. Being kind is an intentional act and takes self-awareness. To begin teaching kindness to children, first learn to recognize when you direct negative statements at your children. Instead of pouncing on what is wrong, point out what is good. Consider a parent who says, “You flunked your spelling test again? That’s it! No video games until…until you’re married!” This statement is negative and unenforceable, no matter how cathartic it may feel when delivering it. In its place, a parent might try: “Last week you made a 45 on your spelling test. This week you made a 60. That’s a 15-point improvement! Good job. Instead of video games, let’s do some more spelling practice so you can keep improving. I think this week, you can make a passing grade.”
When attempting to accentuate the positive, parents may have to overlook abundant negatives, such as piles of trash and dirty clothes hidden behind the door after their child “cleaned” their room. Just take a breath and say: “I like how you reorganized your desk. [We all know that reorganized is hyperbole at its finest; it’s ok.] But the trash and clothes in the corners are diminishing your hard work.” They’ll be completing the job with the standard “Oh, I didn’t see those.”
Be mindful to commend their good work to other people and recall it when your child has another task. “My child was a great help to me today when…” “Remember how you organized your desk last week? I think you can do this job too.”
Thank your children often for what they do. “Thank you for [emptying the dishwasher, not talking in class, doing your homework, etc.]. I enjoy being able to spend this time watching TV with you. We can’t do this when I must spend time fussing at you about chores.”
Who Should Teach Kindness?
These ideas may sound all well and good on paper, but parents have precious few minutes a day to guide and nurture their offspring. When students are away from home 8-9 hours a day attending school, parents have about 15 minutes in the morning and up to an hour in the evening to interact in meaningful ways. If they have more than one child, chances are negative parental statements will be flying at 35-50% of the other children as parents oversee evening routines because herding cats is not easy. So, teachers must find ways to teach compassion in the classroom. Most schools now have weekly or monthly school-wide social-emotional lessons that focus on a particular character trait. This is good, but I have another idea.
How to Teach Kindness to Students
When it comes to teaching kindness, teachers who look for creative ways to allow students to discover how to be kind might be more successful than those who resort to lectures. To that end, I have created four reading lessons designed to get 5th and 6th grade students thinking about ways to be kind to one another while learning and practicing comprehension skills. My Kindness Bundle has four original passages with activities. One informational passage describes the Texas teacher’s flower experiment and Dr. Emoto’s water experiments. Another passage explains the science of kindness and how it affects the body. Students read about perfect comebacks in a humorous narrative that involves the main characters effectively confronting a bully. Another narrative passage paints a picture of kindness rippling through a quiet neighborhood because of one person’s selfless act.
Students learn important reading skills while developing vocabulary and applying comprehension strategies. Reading skills addressed are:
Finding central idea
Using text structures
Identifying a theme
Understanding character development
The lessons are perfect for busy teachers who do not have a lot of prep time. Homeschool parents who do not have a background in education are fully supported by the Teacher’s Guides. More information as well as sample pages can be viewed in my store.