Center for BrainHealth, Researchers find that an online kindness program increases both children’s empathy and parents’ resilience.
Kindness can have a powerful impact on the recipient’s emotions, but kindness can also affect the brain health of the entire family. Researchers and clinicians from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas aimed to determine if an online kindness program can improve preschoolers’ prosocial behavior and parents’ resilience.
The results were published in Frontiers in Psychology by BrainHealth researchers Maria Johnson (MA), director of Youth & Family Innovations; Julie Fratantoni (PhD), cognitive neuroscientist and head for operations at The BrainHealth Project; Kathleen Tate (MA), clinician; and Antonia Moan (Graduate Student at UT Dallas). The research team found that kindness can be taught at home and improves children’s empathy and resilience.
Researchers studied the effects of an online kindness program on 38 mothers and their children aged 3 to 5. “Kind Minds with Moozie” features five modules in which a digital cow (“Moozie”) explains creative activities that parents can do with children to teach kindness.
Johnson stated that Johnson aims to encourage parents to have brain-healthy, practical interactions with their children, particularly during stressful times. Research shows kindness is a powerful potentiator for vibrant social engagement which is in turn a crucial component of overall brain health.
The team asked parents to assess their resilience and evaluate their children’s empathy before and during the kindness training program. After kindness training, parents were more resilient, and preschoolers more empathic. Resilience and empathy both require cognitive skills such as being able to respond well to stressors and considering other perspectives. These findings support the notion that kindness can have an impact on cognitive function and overall brain health.
Surprisingly the researchers found that children’s empathy levels did not improve despite their training. The researchers speculate that COVID-19 safety precautions significantly restricted children’s normal social and emotional learning. The brain science teachings were added to a random group of 21 mothers who participated in the kindness training program. However, the researchers found no differences in their resilience or empathy. To create a healthy brain environment for their children, parents can easily learn how to practice kindness in their own homes. Fratantoni said, “In times when stress is high, it’s important to take a moment to show kindness to yourself and your child. This will help build resilience and promote good behavior.” It is possible to change the brain’s health by being kind.
Kindness can have a ripple effect beyond the family. Johnson stated that kindness can have a positive impact on the brain and increase resilience. Johnson said it is not just for parents and their families but also for society in general.