Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Kindness Project

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good.  But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole . It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project.

In my work, I talk to a lot of really fatigued parents. They come to me because they have had it UP TO HERE with their kid, who is constantly arguing, hitting, kicking, spitting, back talking, etc. etc. They come to me because they are looking for answers--and for a way to make the kid act like a civilized human being.

Usually, by the time they make the appointment, they've tried every consequence allowed within the bounds of decent parenting: they've confiscated toys, privileges, video games, whatever. And they're spending nearly all their time yelling at or criticizing the kid. They're desperate to stop the shouting and the fighting, but they don't know how else to make the bad behavior GO AWAY.

So, when I tell them that the first thing they need to do is start praising the kid for the slightest good behavior, and playing with the kid in this special way ... that feels pretty weird.

Except: it works. Oh, man. Does it ever work.

There are a few reasons why. First, yes, you're rewarding behavior you'd like to see more often. But also? You're showing the kid you LIKE him.

And guess what? A kid who feels liked is more likeable.


You know it's true! When you feel disliked, what do you do? You probably either withdraw (*raises hand*) or you decide you don't like the person who you think dislikes you. Result? You probably act less friendly. You actually become less likeable (at least, toward the person you think doesn't like you).

But when you feel liked? You feel safe. You reach out. You connect. You're filled up a little more, so you can give a little more. It makes you braver. It helps you get through tough times, because you've got some emotional reserve in the bank.

By focusing on noticing the quiet "good behaviors" amidst all the "noise"--the information and drama and doomsday predictions tossed at us every day--we can nurture a community. By stretching a little, and letting people know when they've done something good, kind, considerate, compassionate, neat, cool, interesting, fantastic, awe-inspiring, useful, practical, difficult, impressive, selfless, quirky, original, classic, elegant ... or even just noticing them and acknowledging their place in our community, we can make it better. By taking the first step toward someone (even when it doesn't seem "deserved" or super-special, even when you're feeling tired and overwhelmed by all your own stuff), you can increase the chance we'll all benefit from his or her gifts, whatever they are.

It takes a few seconds. And a little bit of thought. Not much more than that. Even so, I know I don't do it often enough. Now I'm going to try a little harder.

Here are the other bloggers who are participating in this project. I'm honored to be associated with them:
Jessica Corra
Elizabeth Davis
Christa Desir
Liza Kane
Amie Kaufman
Sara Larson
Matthew MacNish
Sara McClung
Gretchen McNeil
Tracey Neithercott
Lola Sharp
Michele Shaw
Meagan Spooner
Carolina Valdez Miller

We post the second Wednesday of every month. Want to join us? Grab our button and spread a little kindness.


  1. Oh, so true. I've seen it work with students. A small bit of kindness can make a student's day, and sometimes it's hard to find something to praise with a difficult student -- but oh so worth it.

    And I've felt the opposite myself. Yes -- I withdraw pretty quickly if someone seems unfriendly. Which only makes me seem more less friendly.

  2. I can't disagree with your logic, losing temper and shouting usually makes me feel the same as the kid, no-one comes out of it well.

  3. It's like the opposite of death by a thousand cuts. If you do a thousand tiny nice things a day, lift other people up in a thousand little ways, maybe it will all add up to one big thing. Maybe if we all act that way, it will reach a critical mass, and the world will be a better place.

  4. This is so, SO true. Kindness breeds kindness just as surely as cruelty breeds cruelty. Lovely opening post for the series!

  5. My husband and I used to do this with my oldest. It didn't work too well. He's got his own challenges, which might explain that. We still do it, but we can definitely do better. We've been working hard at doing this with the boys' school work, especially in the subjects they struggle with. If they feel good about the small accomplishments, they'll feel better about themselves, which will make a huge difference when it comes to the stuff they struggle with. At least that's what we're hoping for.

  6. What a beautiful post -- I'm honoured to be associated with YOU, Sarah. Although what you say makes perfect sense, I don't think I've ever seen it laid out so clearly before. Bet it works with adults, too... you've got me thinking!

  7. I love this, Sarah. It's such a simple concept at the base, but it's so easy to forget.

  8. So true. When I even have the slightest perception that someone doesn't like me, I withdraw. I try to remember that when interacting with others, especially people new to me. It's important to be friendly and give others a chance, making them feel welcome in your world. I wouldn't want to miss out on my next bff.

  9. oh my goodness! I just stumbled upon this on Twitter, and I love it! And so many of my buds are participating. Thanks for this--it's awesome! And so true about kids. (And grown-ups. :o) <3

  10. I know EXACTLY what you mean-->positive reinforcement goes a LONG way to seeing the behaviors you want to see! I wonder if people are just waiting to see if they can receive kindness first before taking the initiative to give it? Anyway, it only takes one change agent, one catalyst to get the ball rolling!

  11. wow, great post. my work situation makes so much more sense now. Thanks.

  12. Great idea, Sarah! Smiles are contagious. :)

  13. makes sense to me! Great post and love the Kindness endeavor!

  14. What a perfect first post for this project, Sarah. We all can focus a little bit more on giving praise, encouraging good behavior to our children (the future adults in society), and to each other.


  15. So true and a great reminder for me. I practiced this over and over with my step-daughter (who was hating me big-time!) and now we seem to have a good relationship (one day at a time LOL). Thanks and what a great project. How do the rest of us participate?

  16. This is lovely and so important. It's funny how training my dog has sort of reminded me of this as well. People really do want to be liked and praised:)

  17. Ah, that's so true about how our own behavior changes when we think someone doesn't like us! Great food for thought.

  18. I try to remember this all the time--just let my kids know I like them. When I was working as an SLP I did a lot of this, too, because a lot of kids with speech and language problems have low self-esteem, especially from 3rd grade up.
    Great post, as usual!

  19. Oh man, spot on. I love this. It seems like common sense, and yet it's so much easier to criticize, isn't it? To pick on the things making you angry. We do it with our children, spouses, parents, co-workers. But the rewards are so much greater with praise. Have you seen this article? I thought it was amazing. Such a simple idea, but man, talk about results. I don't know how to link. Sorry!

  20. I try to reinforce the positive behavior, but I thought it was more about giving attention for the positive because the acting out is usually for attention. But I never thought of it the way you said it - it makes them feel liked. That's brilliant and makes so much sense. I bet that will work for the teen too. I do like them. :)

  21. YES! I find myself doing that--not being as friendly or kind--if I think someone doesn't like me. Your reasoning makes total sense. It's so much easier to nitpick the things we dislike about people, but I love your idea of picking out the things we like instead. Great post!

  22. I LOVE this. I think I'm sometimes quiet when I first meet people - not as much anymore - but I used to be, and people TOTALLY take that the wrong way.

    Hard to remember that it takes SO little energy to make people feel good.

  23. The first thing I thought of reading your post was this article about school discipline. You may have seen it already, but if not, here's a link:

  24. Absolutely, positively. Years ago, other Sunday school teachers would "dump" their problem students into my class. But I didn't allow them to remain "problems" for long. I'd assign them a special task, and then made them feel good about themselves when they accomplished it. If they missed class, I'd call or send a card to let them know they were missed. Treat a child as a problem, and he'll meet those expectations, but treat him as a valued person that you care about, and he'll rise to those expectations, too. Great post.

  25. Love this. Everyone likes positive reinforcement -- adults too. I love this Sarah, thank you for sharing:)

  26. I'm just stopping by to check for a new post, because something is wrong with my Google reader. Happy Friday, Sarah!