One trend in kindness research is to assess the effects of being kind on the well-being of participants. Researchers have found, across studies, that completing kind acts such as spending money on a stranger, counting the number of kind acts you’ve done each week and doing kind acts for people with whom you have varying social connections all boost well-being.
When I began studying kindness as an education researcher at the University of British Columbia, I noticed that, firstly, there was no measure to assess perceptions of kindness in school. Secondly, we knew very little about how kids understood and demonstrated kindness.
Measuring and defining kindness
My foray into understanding kindness began with seeking to measure it. I teamed up with two colleagues, Anne M. Gadermann, a specialist in the social determinants of health, and Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist. With them, I developed the School Kindness Scale.
Using a five-point scale, I surveyed 1753 students in Grades 4 through 8 about their thoughts on how often kindness occurred in their school and whether kindness was encouraged and modelled by adults in their school.
Findings from this study revealed gender differences in perceptions of school kindness with girls reporting higher perceptions of kindness in school than did boys.
We also noted an unfortunate pattern — students perceive their school as less kind from Grades 4 to 8. This pattern is consistent with findings by Canadian and Italian researchers who identified a decrease in pro-social behaviour from childhood to adolescence and findings that students become less connected to school as they transition from childhood to adolescence.
Along with graduate student researcher Holli-Annie Passmore, I also sought to explore children’s understandings of kindness. The children who gauged kindness on the scale as described above also wrote responses…
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