It’s a rare grandmother who doesn’t look at her grandchildren with concern about what the next few decades have in store. Will we continue on our path of growing disconnectedness from each other, our fellow creatures and our planet? Or can we reverse course?

In today’s video, Margaret Manning and relational psychologist Dr. Dale Atkins tackle those questions head on. Dr. Atkins recently coauthored The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children.

The discussion focuses on how to incorporate lessons in connection, empathy and the importance of being themselves into your interactions with your grandkids. By doing so, you’ll co-create a kinder future — a legacy that would make anyone proud. To learn more, continue reading!

Kindness Fundamental #1: Encouraging Connection

There’s a reason why we older women have come together in the Sixty and Me community. A growing body of scientific research indicates that our needs for kindness and connection are as hardwired into our DNA as our need to breathe air!

From a very young age, Dr. Atkins says, we’re capable of recognizing the difference between kind and unkind behaviors. And even at that age, we prefer to connect with people who help rather than hinder us.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

This simple children’s game has a great lesson for Grandma (or anyone caring for a child): Kids are natural observers and imitators.

Having us as role models of connectedness and kindness gives them a huge head start in becoming kind adults! Not only that, but each kind act brings an endorphin-based “helper’s high.” Being kind make us (and them) feel good.

Even more importantly, says Dr. Atkins, kindness is contagious! Those receiving or witnessing it also experience helper’s high and an increased motivation imitate the behavior. They begin seeing the world through a “lens of kindness.”

Talk about how little things can snowball! And how do you start snowball rolling? By paying attention to your grandchildren’s kind acts.

 As proud grandmothers, we love to praise their academic or athletic achievements. But how many of us also praise their kind ones?

Watching for and quickly complimenting their kindness reinforces it. Just be specific with your praise. Perhaps say something like, “I know that’s your favorite kind of candy, and it was really nice of you to share!”

Reading as Reinforcement

Discussing kindness with your grandkids has a tremendous impact on their becoming kind teenagers and adults. Reading to or with them provides a natural opening for the discussion.

It lets them compare how they would have reacted in a situation to the way the book’s characters did. They learn we don’t all have the same beliefs — and that our beliefs are what motivate our actions.

 By questioning them about what the characters might have been thinking or feeling when they acted, you’ll be engaging in the second of Dr. Atkins’ kindness fundamentals.

Kindness Fundamental #2: Encouraging Empathy

Empathy is what lets us experience what other people are feeling or thinking. Sharing books is an excellent way to encourage it. Another is to devote part of your time with your grandkids to practice “compassionate action” through volunteering.

 Think a Saturday morning cleaning up a local park or a summer vacation day helping out at a local food pantry. The keys are to let them see you serving in a different environment and to share how it’s making a positive difference for you, another person or an entire community.

When they understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you see as its larger impact, they’re on the path to becoming empathetic teenagers.

Kindness Fundamental # 3: Encouraging Your Grandkids to Be Themselves

Each of our grandchildren is born with a special set of talents. As grandmothers, one of the kindest things we can do is repeatedly remind them of the value of being themselves.

When confident that they really do have something positive to contribute, they’ll be much more motivated to devoting their time and talents to acts of kindness.

What are you doing to encourage your grandchildren’s inborn desires for connection and kindness? What experiences have you had to show that it’s working? Please join in the conversation!

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