Should doctors prescribe kindness?
From an article by Greater Good Science Center
, a doctors' practice in Cleveland, Ohio, has developed a parenting programme, Bee the Change - events, lessons, and tools promoting kindness. Based on evidence that practicing kindness and purpose benefits children, the programme helps kids care for others and flourish themselves.
There are many reasons to encourage kids to be kind. For one, it helps build positive relationships, which are important for developmental growth and success in life. More broadly, kindness is a moral virtue that can lead to more trusting, cooperative societies. And picking up kindness as a value from a young age can have positive effects later in life.
When kids are kind, they are happier and less likely to have social or behavioural problems. Kids who do nice things for others may have a greater sense of agency and purpose, too—meaning, they see that their actions can have a positive impact in the world and feel more capable of changing things for the better.
To launch the programme, Senders organized a Community Kindness Day in 2019 that gathered hundreds of families at a local community centre. Data was presented showing that kindness improves physical and mental health, and booths were set up where kids could showcase their philanthropic work in the community and inspire other kids to get involved and find purpose by doing good.
The event was a success on multiple levels. It gave parents a reason to want to instil kindness in kids, legitimized the importance of social-emotional skills, and allowed kids to take charge. The fact that kids were able to lead was probably one of the most impactful parts of the programme.
The overall concept was to create opportunities for kids to acquire a habit of kindness that could be integrated into their lives, while also stressing the importance to health. After Kindness Day, Senders developed worksheets, activity cards, kits, monthly newsletters, and more—all aimed at promoting these important values while not stressing the busy medical practice staff.
Unfortunately, some ideas had to be jettisoned when COVID hit, including a second annual Kindness Day. But they got creative and sent out card-making materials around Valentine’s Day, encouraging kids to send valentines to people in the community who could use a boost—like first responders or elderly folks in nursing homes. In December, they asked kids to perform a good deed for someone else, providing kids with a “kindness kit” with more ideas of how to be kind.
While it’s unclear how much Senders’ program can change the culture of a whole community, it has been well-received by parents whose kids have participated.
After attending Kindness Day, seven-year-old Garett, was encouraged to apply for a “B.E.E. Kind” grant the clinic designed, which paid for the creation of a “Kindness Corner” at his school. He and his mum purchased books on kindness, put Post-it notes in the school library where kids could leave kindness messages for each other, and created a snack cart for those who couldn’t afford school snacks.
“I was able to teach my son about writing grants to get money and materials needed to support ideas and causes that he is passionate about,” says Garett's mother. “He learned that he could make a difference with a simple idea even though he was only seven years old!”
Another parent found that her son Derrick’s interest in building literacy among boys in his community was encouraged by participating in Kindness Day, where he staffed a booth. Not only was his work honoured, but he was also able to get his message across to others. “He was talking about the importance of reading and sharing with children how they can become stronger readers”. She was particularly happy that Senders drew participants from the low-income neighbourhood where she and her son live, empowering people who may feel disenfranchised.
Matthew Lee, a Harvard researcher who directs research at the Human Flourishing Program, says, “When a child goes to see the doctor, it shouldn’t just be about taking your vital signs in a narrow, biophysical sense. Doctors should talk about how kindness relates to overall health, which includes physical well-being, sure, but also your mental well-being and your full flourishing.”
Senders believes that their kindness initiative not only helps children develop moral character, it also makes them less afraid to go to the doctor—something that makes the staff’s job easier. “It started out as something small, but it has become an integral part of how we operate in our office. It really has changed how we practice medicine.”
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