Study shows that kindness counts at school, helps with popularity

Published: Saturday, Jan. 5 2013 2:47 p.m. MST

Kids who show kindness gain popularity and are less likely to bully others or be bullied, a new study shows.

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Listen up, schoolyard bullies. It turns out that the road to popularity isn't paved by teasing other kids, name-calling, excluding loners or shoving seventh-graders into lockers — even if Hollywood says so.

Kids who show kindness gain popularity with peers and are less likely to become bullying victims themselves, says a new study, "Kindness Counts," led by Kristin Layous, a University of California-Riverside psychologist.

The study followed 415 Canadian students ages 9 to 11 for four weeks. Half of the students were instructed to perform three acts of kindness, and the other half — the control group — were assigned to visit three places of interest to them. Before the study started, students were asked to identify which classmates they would like to spend time with.

At the end of the trial, students were surveyed about their own happiness levels and asked to identify which classmates they considered as friends, according to a description of the study in Education Week. The students who performed acts of kindness reported greater well-being and garnered significantly more new friends than those who had visited places; about 1.6 new friends on average, compared with 0.7 for the other group.

The study demonstrated that doing good for others benefits the givers — earning them not only higher levels of happiness but also popularity, wrote its authors in the PLOS ONE medical and scientific journal. The study showed that well-liked pre-adolescents perform more kind, inclusive behaviors and do less bullying. And entire classrooms practicing kind behaviors reap collective benefits, as the liking of all classmates soars.

The study authors suggest that teachers can build on the study's results by introducing intentional pro-social activities — kind deeds — in their classrooms and encouraging students to perform them regularly and purposefully.

The National Crime Prevention Council offers tips for parents aimed at helping them raise kind kids who don't bully others. Some of those ideas are:

Teach kids to solve problems without using violence and praise them when they do.

  • Give children positive feedback when they behave well to help them build self-esteem. Help give them the self-confidence to stand up for what they believe in.

    If you see any bullying, stop it immediately, even if your child is the one doing the bullying.

    Encourage your child to help others who need it.

    Don't bully your children or bully others in front of them. Many times kids who are bullied at home react by bullying other kids. If your children see you hit, ridicule or gossip about someone else, they are more likely to do so themselves.

    And, for parents whose children are being bullied:

    Talk to your child's teacher about it instead of confronting the bully's parents. If the teacher doesn't act to stop the bullying, talk to the principal.

    Teach your child nonviolent ways to deal with bullies, like walking away, playing with friends or talking it out.

    Help your child act with self-confidence. With him or her, practice walking upright, looking people in the eye and speaking clearly.

    Don't encourage your child to fight. This could lead to him or her getting hurt, getting in trouble and beginning more serious problems with the bully.

    Involve your child in activities outside of school. This way he or she can make friends in a different social circle.

    EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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