Doing an act of kindness can make you feel good about yourself, and a new study suggests it also benefits the brains of everyone living under one roof. Researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas report that teaching and practicing kindness at home improved parents’ resilience and children’s empathy.
Because both resilience and empathy use different cognitive skills such as responding well to stressors or considering different perspectives, the researchers suggest kindness can improve a person’s cognition.
The Children’s Kindness Network is an online kindness training program that enrolled 38 mothers and their 3- to 5- year old children. The program included “Kind Minds With Moozie” with five modules featuring a digital cow who explained creative exercises parents can use with their kids to learn about kindness.
“We aim to encourage parents to engage in practical, brain-healthy interactions with their children that aid in a better understanding of one another, especially during times of stress,” says Maria Johnson, MA, director of Youth & Family Innovations and coauthor of the study in a media release. “Research shows that kindness is a strong potentiator of vibrant social engagement, which in turn is a critical component of overall brain health.”
The team studied the impact on the program and children’s empathy. Parents filled out a survey on their own resilience and their kids’ empathy before and after the training program. Results showed that after the program, parents reported being more resilient and preschool-aged children were more empathetic.
One surprising finding was that children’s empathy levels were below average despite showing improvements after training. The team explains this is likely because of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns that limited children’s social and emotional development.
“In times of stress, taking a moment to practice kindness for yourself and model it for your children can boost your own resilience and improve your child’s prosocial behaviors,” says Julie Fratantoni, PhD, cognitive neuroscientist and head of operations for The BrainHealth Project. “Do not underestimate the power of kindness, because it can ultimately change and shape brain health.”
The findings are available to read in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.