School children who make an effort to be nice to their peers are happier and may learn better than children who do not perform acts of kindness. Researchers believe that kindness among students might also promote greater peer acceptance and reduce bullying.
A team of Canadian and U.S. psychologists conducted this first-ever study of behavior that can promote happiness in children. According to research leader Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an educational psychologist at the University of British Columbia, previous investigations have focused on stressed-out and depressed adults, studying whether performing acts of kindness made them feel better.
Four hundred Vancouver school children between the ages of 9 and 11 were asked to name the classmates they most liked to work with in school and social activities, and to describe how happy they were. Then they were divided into two groups.
One group was assigned to perform an act of kindness once a week, such as sharing their lunch with another student or giving their mother a hug when she felt stressed.
The students in the control group were asked to keep track of pleasant places they had visited each week, such as a park, or a grandparent's house.
After four weeks, all the students were again asked about their happiness, and to identify which of their classmates they would like to work with.
“The kids that remembered the places that they went to also increased in their happiness by remembering these...prominent locations," Schonert-Reichl says. " But the difference was that the kids that did the acts of kindness ended up increasing how much they liked each other in the classroom more. There were more kids that liked each other as opposed to the control group."
Although it was not part of their study, Schonert-Reichl suggests that students who perform acts of kindness may be less likely to pick on or bully children they consider weak or different... and less likely to be bullied themselves.
“Of course, we have to have more scientific evidence that shows that it does decrease bullying. But I would have to say if you like that person you are less likely to bully that person,” Schonert-Reichl says.
And Schoenert-Reichl says there are also indications that happier kids are more likely to be better students, because their minds are more open to learning new information.
“Interestingly, there’s some research that actually shows that if you are a professor or a teacher, and you are grading paper when you are happier, you actually give higher marks,” Schonert-Reichl says.
The study by Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and colleagues on the positive effects of kind acts among school children is published in the journal PLoS One.