Contrary to what you have been hearing from your kids -- that the key to happiness and peer acceptance is getting a (fill-in-the-blank-here) for Christmas -- you might be able to bless your kids with happiness and richer friendships by one simple act.
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The Key to Happiness
Children from 9 to 11 years of age were split into two groups in a happiness and social acceptance study involving 400 students in Vancouver elementary schools. Teachers asked one group to "perform acts of kindness -- like sharing their lunch or giving their mom a hug when she felt stressed." The other half were asked to "keep track of pleasant places they visited -- like the playground or a grandparent's house."
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After four weeks practicing these small rituals, both groups of children scored higher in self-reported happiness. But the group that practiced small acts of kindness got an additional benefit.
Those children who had been encouraged to act kindly selected more classmates with whom they wanted to work on shared classroom activities. The researchers observed an average increase of 1.5 friends per child in classes late in the school year when social patterns were already well established. Choosing a larger number of students to spend time with serves as an indicator of peer acceptance.
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The study's authors, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl (UBC Faculty of Education), and Kristin Layous (University of California, Riverside), say that increasing peer acceptance is key to preventing bullying. According to Schonert-Reichl:
Teachers can create a sense of connectedness in the classroom and reduce the likelihood of bullying.
Even if your kid's teachers have not gotten the news yet, you can work to spread the same happiness by helping your kids learn the value of kindness toward others. Three acts of kindness per week was all it took to achieve the results reported.
So encourage your kids to see opportunities to offer a helping hand to a classmate, even those who are not already in their close group of friends. Talk to your kids about how simple efforts -- like helping to carry a load, sharing a special treat, or offering to listen when a classmate seems stressed -- outweigh the efforts with great returns in their own happiness and in their friendships with others.
This post was written by Christine Lepisto.
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