In the aftermath of Christmas, a parent could be forgiven for thinking that materialism has trumped human kindness.
Take heart. Children can easily become kinder and more helpful. And that behavior makes them more positive, more accepting and more popular.
At least that's how it worked for fourth- and fifth-graders in Vancouver, Canada. Researchers there have been studying empathy and altruism in schoolchildren for decades.
"How do we decrease bullying, increase empathy and caring for others?" says Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia who helped lead the experiment.
They wanted to see how performing random acts of kindness would influence that. But one measurement thrown into the mix almost as an afterthought — being liked by peers — was the quality most improved by helpful acts.
The researchers asked 9- to 11-year-olds in 19 classrooms to either perform three acts of kindness or visit three places each week (the tourists were the control group).
The acts of kindness were simple. The children gave mom a hug when she was stressed out, shared their lunches, or vacuumed the floor.
After four weeks, the researchers tested the kids and compared the results with tests they'd taken before. All the children had more positive emotions, and were slightly happier.