In preschools, kindness is encouraged. But can it be taught?
Chad McGehee thinks so. But he knows teachers may be skeptical, at least at first.
"Something we think about all the time is instructional minutes, right? Every minute is precious in the classroom," he said.
McGehee, learning and development program lead at Healthy Minds Innovations, said he believes teaching kindness can actually help teachers manage a classroom — going beyond the benefits children already get from learning kindness.
"From previous research we know that emotional intelligence is in fact a greater predictor of life outcomes — like financial outcomes, health outcomes, family outcomes — than IQ," he said. "So if we can train in these things to improve our emotional quotient, then we're supporting kids and sort of furthering all sorts of outcomes for them."
Healthy Minds Innovations is collaborating with the Center For Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop a 12-week kindness curriculum for preschool teachers. And their work is gaining notice.
Children’s TV show "Sesame Street" consulted with the center about how to teach kindness on the show. It’s a running theme this season.
"They were most interested in this idea that things like patience, and kindness and generosity are qualities that we can train, we can get better in, we can practice," McGehee said.
Oftentimes, McGehee said, children are told to "be kind." But teaching kindness is about showing them what that looks like, he said.
Take, for example, a disagreement between two 5-year-olds.
According to the curriculum, one child acts as the "star listener." The other speaks from the heart.
"Their job is to just kind of share what’s happening for them in an uninterrupted kind of authentic way. And the star listener is just listening, fully receiving what it is this child has to say," McGehee said. "...We actually kind of train, what does it look like when you’re actually listening with a full heart to somebody else?"
The curriculum’s approach is mindfulness-based. Mindfulness is often defined as being fully aware of the present moment.
The idea, McGehee said, is that by being hyper-aware of our own emotions as they happen, we make better choices in interactions with other people.
"And then also by being aware of our own internal world, we become aware of, 'This is probably true for other people,' 'Other people experience these emotions and thoughts,' so our empathy and compassion also goes up when we’re in-tune with the current moment," he said.
The Center For Healthy Minds hopes to eventually expand the curriculum across K-12. The center began with preschool-aged children because it was targeted as a time of major brain development.
And McGehee said he believes increasing kindness could have a serious ripple effect.
"What comes to mind is the phrase, 'Think globally, and act locally.' The world has, and will continue to have lots of challenges. So the real question then becomes, how are we working with it, how are we relating to it?" he said. "And the opportunity we have is right now in this moment, with the person that we’re with, and the family that we’re going to be going home to, and the neighbors that we have."