Be Kind and Feel Better, Research Shows

Doug Gentile
Doug Gentile

I wanted to take the opportunity here in our blog to share research by our very own Science of Parenting co-founder, Douglas Gentile. Gentile was instrumental in launching ISU Extension and Outreach’s Science of Parenting. In 2011 Science of Parenting began with audio podcasts and a blog, and we have now grown to a one-stop, online source for trustworthy research on popular parenting topics. Gentile and his team recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

 

Kindness means being friendly, generous and considerate. The definition focuses on what an individual can do to make someone else feel better. However, Iowa State research shows that thinking kind thoughts about others can improve your own mood.

Gentile, professor of psychology, senior lecturer Dawn Sweet and graduate student Lanmiao He tested the benefits of three different techniques intended to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being. They found that simply wishing others well for 12 minutes could improve a person’s mood.

“We asked students to walk around campus and either wish for others to be happy, to consider how they might be similar and connected, or to think about how they might be better off than others. Any of these could possibly make people feel happier, but there were clear differences,” Gentile said.

“Wishing others well reduced anxiety and increased happiness and feelings of social connection. Considering how connected we all are increased feelings of connection, but had no effect on happiness or anxiety. Thinking about how we might be better off than others had no benefits at all,” Gentile said.

Gentile noted that this study didn’t require people to do anything other than to think how they wish for others to be happy; so it can be done without requiring any actions or even for the other person to know about it.

For more information on the study click here.

 

As families, we can practice kindness in many ways — with our children, other family members, our friends and other people with whom we interact each day.

  • Practice simple manners. Saying please and thank you are easy ways to teach young children the beginnings of kindness.
  • Send short notes to others. Leaving short notes of affirmation at random can be done quickly and create opportunities for connecting with others when they least expect it. Younger children can decorate a note, while early writers can practice their language skills.
  • Offer random acts of kindness. Doing random, unexpected, small acts for others can bring children into an action that teaches social skills and connects positive feelings to their emotional development. Simple things, like sharing or helping, show children how to be kind.

We would love to hear ways that you have seen how showing kindness impacted your mood and happiness!

 

Find additional ideas in our Dare to Excel newsletter – March “Service Learning”

Help your children grow through service learning as they apply classroom knowledge to meaningful and needed services in the community. Includes ways to give kids a chance to experience personal responsibility and positive social behavior while developing a closer bond with their school and community.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family: Family Connections & History

Last week, I gave you some hobbies and activities to try in order to celebrate your family and create #greatchildhoods. Want to dig a little deeper? The next step beyond immediate family activities is family connections and family history. These are the ideas that will help parents connect their children to those who came before them and helped to pave the way. Remembering, celebrating, and reflecting on history is a great way to bond with one another across generations!

Ideas in this category included:Parents reading a book with their daughter

1 – Read a book together
4 – Say “I love you” to one another
8 – Visit a relative
26 – Sing old songs
36 – Take cookies and visit an older neighbor or friend
42 – Look at old family pictures
43 – Tell old family stories
49 – Give everyone a hug
52 – Celebrate your heritage
62 – Watch an old black and white movie
68 – Talk to older persons about their lives
72 – Bury a time capsule
73 – Dream about the future
77 – Start a journal
81 – Begin a wisdom list of quotations, sayings, and advice
82 – Fingerprint family and compare and contrast any similarities or differences
90 – Plan a family feast
91 – Write notes to each other in the family
93 – Give a compliment
100 – Create a special events calendar
101 – Enjoy one another

What other ways have you embraced family connections and embraced your family history?

– Adapted from 101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach –

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family: Hobbies & Activities

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. The national organization Prevent Child Abuse (PCA) America’s theme this year is “Do more of what you love to create #greatchildhoods,” which I LOVE. It embraces the idea of finding a passion – or finding things you enjoy doing – and using them to spend quality time as a family.

In a recent office cleanout, I happened upon a couple of folders with information from 2000-2002. I think the universe pulled me to them. I swear. Inside this folder I found a handout from 2000 entitled “101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family.”

What a perfect fit! This list appeared to help us find some things we might enjoy doing as a family!

This handout is exactly what it says it is – a list of 101 ideas for your family to be engaged in what I narrowed down to three categories –

  • Hobbies and activities
  • Family connections & History
  • Community Engagement

The first category – hobbies and activities – are fun undertakings, some costing money, some cost-free, and some of the items are ones we’d often consider ‘chores,’ but can be made fun if you’re doing them with family. Personally, I think this would be a fun “to-do” challenge for a family to try to cross off all the activities by the end of the year. Or maybe this list will spark other ideas for a to-do list of your own!

This category contains 59 items, so I’ll stop explaining here and let you explore the ideas for yourself:

Family On Cycle Ride In Countryside Smiling At Camera
Family On Cycle Ride In Countryside Smiling At Camera

3 – Turn off the television
5 – Enjoy a ride in the country
6 – Plant a flower garden
7 – Have a garage sale
9 – Bake cookies
10 – Start a “Once upon a time…”story and everyone add to it
11 – Go to a movie
14 – Visit a local museum
15 – Go on a picnic
16 – Fly a kite
19 – Make a homemade pizza
21 – Attend a local sporting event
22 – Go on a bike ride
24 – Jump in a pile of raked leaves
25 – Do homework together
27 – Clean the garage
28 – Go Horseback riding
29 – Take a hike
30 – Visit the library
31 – Play leap frog
33 – Enjoy a concert
34 – Go caroling
35 – Have a banana split party
37 – Go swimming
38 – Play a board game
39 – Roast marshmallows
41 – Experience your farmer’s market
44 – Go to a lake
45 – Lie on your back and watch the stars
7 – Skip up and down your block
50 – Talk about a television program
51 – Plan a concert
54 – Put together a first-aid kit
55 – Blow bubbles
56 – Cook out
57 – Go fishing
58 – Play cards
60 – Go to an airport and watch the planes come and go
61 – Have a scavenger hunt
63 – Gather wildflowers

64 – Splash in the rain
65 – Collect fall leaves
66 – Do your own exercise video
67 – Visit a zoo
69 – Have a band with kitchen pans
71 – Put a puzzle together
74 – Make, repair, paint, or refinish an object that would make your home nicer
75 – Hike on a fitness trail
76 – Watch a sunset
79 – Make a collage with magazine pictures
83 – Rent a movie and eat popcorn
85 – Look under rocks in your yard
86 – Design your holiday and birthday cards
87 – Plan an herb garden
88 – Create a snow sculpture
89 – Go skating
94 – Roll down a hill
95 – Make homemade ice cream
96 – Whistle a song
98 – Draw pictures

Which one are you going to try this week? Look for more ideas on how to connect with your family on our Science of Parenting EVERYDAY PARENTING page!

– Adapted from 101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach –

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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Understanding Why They Do What They Do – Brain Development

familyWhen I teach on child development I often say “my two passions are brain development and temperament”.

For more than twenty years I have loved sharing with adults how children’s brains physically grow, connect and shape who that child becomes. Take that developing brain and put it alongside the ‘nature AND nurture’ of temperament and you have the answers to many of childhood’s great mysteries. Questions like “Why do they DO that?” or “What were they THINKING” can often be answered by taking a look at children’s brain development and temperament.

The Science of Parenting has many resources but some of my very favorites are the Ages & Stages publications and the Just in Time Parenting newsletters (in both English and Spanish).  When you zero in on exactly what children are capable of knowing and doing based on the age of their brain we often find that our parenting expectations change.

For instance, if our toddler has a large vocabulary we may mistakenly think that they are capable of also controlling their emotions. While checking the newsletter that corresponds to their age we may actually find that their emotions at this age are really too ‘big’ for the child to actually control on their own.

Or, if our preschooler is struggling with aggressiveness or defiance, we may find that after reading the newsletter that corresponds to their age we may need to offer them more choices and opportunities to control their decisions.

Whatever the age of our child, learning about what their brain is capable of is always a positive tip for our parenting toolbox. And in case you are worried, your child’s brain is not actually fully grown and connected until their early 20’s – that’s years not months.

Check out the other development resources found in our Everyday Parenting section.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Family Finances in the New Year

As the New Year approaches, are you writing down some goals or resolutions? Each year, I try to identify one or two new things I want to try, or do differently. I often use the beginning of the New Year to adjust my savings strategy so that I can also meet my goal of having some funds to be able to travel and visit my family when summer rolls around.

This is also the time of year that I have to pay the bills for the gifts that I purchased during the holiday season. Having a spending and savings plan is important.  Children learn so much from watching how other family members and friends use money. As adults we can model good spending habits, and educate our own children so that they will develop good consumer management skills. You may be curious about what resources are available to help you teach your child about how money works or how to be a good money manager as an adult. I would like to suggest you explore the following links:

Wishing you and your family a great and prosperous New Year!

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is often measured in terms of how willing we are as individuals to decide between what we WANT today and what is best for us in the long run. Having the self-discipline to manage our resources; appropriate behavior; language and work ethic help to create a stable environment in which to live.  Parent’s too, who spend the time early in a child’s life to help them adjust their behavior so that they are well mannered in school; the neighborhood and at home, can take credit for creating a nurturing environment.

Natural consequences are all around us, youth and adult alike. If I work through lunch and the cafeteria is closed when I finally take a break to eat, I will have to have another plan for eating. If I choose to use “salty” language to my peers on the job, I may run the risk of being overlooked for leadership positions, because my language is a reflection of my lack of self-discipline in proper communication.

Everyday, we are challenged to work alongside others who may or may not have the same set of skills; our self-discipline is simply an expression of the character we have and our willingness to lead by example!

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Three Presents

I received a wonderful message from a reader of our blog. I asked the writer for permission to share.   I love when our readers let us know that something has touched them personally. 

Beautiful little girl child with shopping colorful paper bags in

Listen in on Laura’s thoughts….and thank you Laura for being willing to share.

When I was growing up, each of us seven kids in my family received three Christmas presents from Mom and Dad, under the guise of Santa Claus: a toy present, a clothes present, and a book present. There may have been discrepancies in the total cost of each kid’s gifts, but that didn’t matter to us. We each had three packages to open. It was fair.

This system also helped Mom and Dad administer their Christmas budget. They were not the type to go into debt; if they couldn’t pay for it, they didn’t buy it. But they could plan ahead – quite necessary when dealing with 21 presents (seven kids times three)!

In addition, they taught us kids a lesson about finances. They told us that parents would leave money on the kitchen table for Santa – to pay him for the presents. They said some parents could leave more money for Santa than they could, while other parents couldn’t leave as much. Santa then considered each family’s Christmas list against the money and provided accordingly. That made sense to us and was a simple way to explain why some of our friends might get more, or fewer, presents than we did.

But most important, my parents were sharing their values. We learned we couldn’t have everything we wanted – we had to make choices. Sure we may have wanted three toys, but we also needed socks or a new pair of pants – we learned to understand limits. We also grew to enjoy and value reading.

I took my parents’ three present system to heart, and my husband and I followed it with our own children.

I can’t quote the exact research that supports my parents’ – and my – approach to holiday gift giving. But it seems to be in line with the concepts the specialists’ teach: treat children fairly, practice love and limits, promote literacy, and stick to your budget.

Laura Sternweis

Laura is a communications specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She has a B.S. in communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and an MS in rural sociology from Iowa State. She’s a former farm kid and the parent of two young adult children.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Gift and Giving

christmasgiftboxWelcome guest blogger, Carol Ehlers, Human Sciences Specialist, Family Finance for this months topic on “Gits and Giving”

Simple Christmases that are low on cost but high on meaning are possible. In fact, a $10 limit per person is possible by carefully planning holiday spending.

The first step to achieving a small holiday limit is to make the decision to hold down spending. Tell relatives and friends you’re choosing to set a budget for exchanging gifts. This can be hard to do, but you may find that keeping holiday spending down can pay off in some unexpected ways.

Next, decide how to spend the budgeted Christmas funds. Will some be spent on the adults, or will it all be spent on the children?

Be creative by giving “low-cost experiences.” Many studies show that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling than things. A Cornell University 10 year study and Journal of Psychological Science report confirm why experiences have the ability to contribute to happiness more than material purchases. Successful low-cost experience examples range from pottery making, rock climbing, horseback riding, bowling or skate tickets. Consider “Every Kid in a Park” (a free year-long national park pass https://www.everykidinapark.gov/ or geocache treasure hunts that end with ice cream. Consider sharing a skill or classes to experience sewing, painting or other similar activity. To keep it low-cost, find a family member, friend or community event to teach the skill at a discount.

Proven family focused gifts range from museum or science center memberships–to orchestra or community theater tickets– to a tent for camping. Sometimes a material gift can lead to an experience.

Families who have tried this low-cost Christmas have found it was more meaningful. Families that keep to their Christmas budget plan enjoy the feeling of financial security knowing there won’t be large bills to try to pay in January. There is also a good chance those inexpensive and thoughtful gifts will bring out the best in everyone and will be more meaningful.

 

We would love to hear about your inexpensive gift ideas! Share with us!

For more ideas download a free copy of ISU Extension and Outreach publication “Track Your Spending,” or “This is the Way I Spend My Money” a 12-month spending record.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Dirt and Kids Go Hand in Hand

Beautiful child with sunflower in spring fieldConfession. I am not a gardener. Well, I’m not a vegetable gardener. I can grow a mean hibiscus and a lovely tulips but vegetables stump me. Its not that I don’t day dream about growing a bountiful garden, I just haven’t quite figured out how to get started. So in an effort to set the stage for the rest of the month I want to first say, “you don’t have to do it all”.

If you had a chance to listen to the podcast you heard about all the great things that children learn from gardening. Truth be told, they can also learn many of those things while caring for flowers and house plants as well. So before you say, “This month isnt’ for me”, consider the live plants that you may already have. Consider the flowers you may currently be watering. Substitute them for the gardening ideas (except for the eating part).

Share with your children how to keep they happy and healthy. Teach them how to put them in sunlight or shade. Ask them questions as you thin, separate and re-pot them. Tell them about the benefits of growing green plants in an indoor environment as well as outdoor. And most importantly don’t give up on the the fact that you really are a gardener. I haven’t.

Let us know about your green thumb.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Children and Chores

kids hanging on mom as she cleansWhen children don’t have time for household chores, it’s time to reevaluate their busy schedules.

Many parents are concerned about their children’s achievement and success. But some fill their children’s schedules with so many activities, tutoring sessions and private lessons, that there is no time left for learning to help at home. However, getting your kids to complete household chores may be a better strategy for long-term positive social and academic outcomes than whatever additional activities they are involved in.

Research from the University of Minnesota found that young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started doing chores as teens.

Join us this month as we talk about children and chores.

Podcast script

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Kindness is learned by feeling kindness

friendsAs I was reading about kindness I became fascinated by the brain research. I sat there thinking “Well of course, the brain is in charge of our feelings. Why wouldn’t it be the center of this conversation?”.

Our brains are in charge of our emotions and our actions. Our brains take the input we receive from others. Process the information. Tell us how to emotionally respond. And our actions become the response. Makes perfect sense. The brain is in charge of kindness.

And then I read this, “our brain learns best about kindness when it FEELS kindness”. There is was.

How should I teach my children about kindness?  Help them FEEL kindness.

Children learn kindness when they ‘feel’ what its like to make someone else smile. And their brain learns.

They learn about kindness when they share with others, when they comfort others, when they give to others. And their brain learns.

Suddenly writing this blog topic wasn’t rocket science, but is was brain science. It was simply thinking about all of the ways that children can be kind to others and understanding that while they do this – their brain learns.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Overwhelmed by the holiday rush?

Where you overwhelmed by the holiday rush? Did you have a ‘to do’ list a mile long and no time to do it? Are you sitting in a pile of dirty dishes, unfolded laundry and unfinished chores? Do you have no idea where to start? Even if you answered ‘yes’ to one of those questions I have a solution for you.

Breathe. Yep, that’s it, just take a deep breath.

Stop everything and just breathe. Give yourself permission to take 10 slow, deep cleansing breaths. You may have to hide in the front closet to get them all in but really shoot for 10 uninterrupted.  Take some deep breaths. Refocus your ‘thinking’ brain by giving it some oxygen.

Who knows? When you revisit the list you may find that the items on it you were trying to balance may not all have to be done exactly ‘right now’. You may just find that acronym HALT like Janet talked about in our last blog is once again interfering.

After deep breathing, it sometimes helps me read ideas from others. Below are several resources that share ideas on how to balance and cope during times you may be overwhelmed.

We would love for you to share your ideas as well. Let us know your tricks for balancing everything you have to get done.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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STEM at the fair

It’s summer time! That means it’s county fair time. Do you know how much science, technology, engineering and math happens at a county or state fair?

Confession time, I was not a fair kid growing up. I thought that if I went to the county fair I would just see my friend’s farm animals and the cookies they had been practice baking for months. No really, that’s what I thought! I have come to learn however that it is about amazing fabulous STEM opportunities and experiences. Even as a visitor, your opportunities to experience STEM are endless.

When I searched ‘what to do at the fair’ I found an endless list of activities for families. From milking cows, to using robots, to participating in food demonstrations (read EAT), from creating your own artwork, to learning about wildlife and insects.  And these were just the 3 links I found from 3 different states! Not to mention all the counties in those various states that were sharing their fair activities.

Take a moment and think about how you might be able to encourage STEM activities in a fun and family friendly environment with your children. Most fairs are low cost or have discount days/times. They cater to families with children and want to create an engaging family focused time for you. Get creative while you’re at the fair. Create family challenges or mini-competitions at the exhibits and demonstrations. Enjoy the demonstrations and talk about how you might do something similar in your own home. Take the fair boards up on their offer, find a fair close to you and show your kids that you know a little about STEM too.

We would love to hear about your favorite fair experiences.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Traditions Aren’t Just for the Holidays!

Well,  the holidays are almost behind us.  The warm and happy feelings that we get from spending time together as a family, needed end because the calendar says January.  Just the opposite is true.  It’s a wonderful time, to emphasize ordinary, everyday life traditions.

My family enjoys family meal time.  But we haven’t always!  We try to get in at least 4 family meals together each week.  Several years ago after my husband made some life changes,  we made a plan  to make eating and talking together a priority.   I used to hear lots of complaints—“we’re eating too early”, “I’m not hungry”, “I don’t like that.”, and  “I’d rather sit in front of the television”.  But, as a family,  we all agreed that it was important for us to spend time together and family meals seemed like the place to start.  There are no complaints now and certainly no regrets.

Start a family physical activity time.   After dinner walks  or bike rides are a great place to start.  Traditions can easily become habits!  May think about trying new physical activities such as bowling, gardening, sledding, ice skating, swimming, or yoga.

Maybe it’s time to arrange for special time with each child.  My kids are almost adults and this is still really important.   It is important that each child in a family gets “alone-time” with a parent on a regular basis. Volunteer or plan a community service activity as a family. Every community has unique needs that you and your family can help address such as picking up litter, volunteering at a nursing home, planting flowers for an elderly neighbor, or buying a toy for a needy child at Christmas.

What’s important is making your family important.  What better way than sharing time..at the holidays and every day of the year.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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Christmas Sock Story Reinforces Gratitude

This is a great time of year to tell family stories.  I purposely take the opportunity to retell my Grandma Isabel’s holiday story of gratitude each year to my children.  The story goes like this… her depression era grandparents would give each grandchild woolen socks with candy and an orange.  The gift was welcome to almost all of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters who usually received very little under the Christmas tree.  But one Christmas her ungrateful sister Ada complained that they were itchy and she didn’t like them.  Offended, her grandparents stopped the Christmas gift giving.  My grandmother was heartbroken, but her heart always remembered the importance of being thankful.  Her lesson of gratitude was repeated in story form for me each year!  I have continued the same story and sharing the importance of the value of gratitude.

My kids look forward to Christmas for 11 months each year!   The last thing I want to hear is them being an  “Ada” and complaining about is how they didn’t get everything they wanted, but teaching and having a spirit of gratitude instead.  Before Christmas, I try to set aside a time to do something for others.  They have griped at times…I will be honest…but I know that serving others will help make them into a better people.   It’s harder for them to think about their little problems when they see the Bob-Cratchit-sized issues of the less fortunate.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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