What if, from early childhood onwards, every child was taught – in school, every day – to be kind? What if those daily lessons and reflections continued right through to high school graduation? What kind of effect would that have on the next generation, and would it revolutionise our levels of empathy towards one another?
Katrina Cavanagh, a therapist working with children and adults who have suffered trauma, believes that it would. What’s more, she has designed and implemented an incredible program, currently used in many schools across Australia, which aims to do just this. The Kindness on Purpose program aims to increase empathy in children, thereby decreasing bullying and aggression, and reducing the risk and impact of anxiety and depression in kids and teens.
Currently gaining a lot of celebrity support and having an impact on children across Australia, the Kindness on Purpose program begins in early childhood. Children receive daily lessons on how to be kind and how to choose and implement acts of kindness, and the commit to being kind each day. At the end of every school day, there are reflection sessions when children consider how they felt while being kind, and how everyone else felt. Children are also taught strategies and techniques which help them to regulate their own emotions – the ultimate goal being to create a school where everyone can express their feelings safely and appropriately.
Cavanagh developed the idea for Kindness on Purpose when she realised that the school system was not catering for pupil’s emotional intelligence. To do so would be a sensible academic strategy, because, as Cavanagh says:
“We know as we increase empathy in students, the better their academic results get. It makes sense because brains in pain can’t learn.”
However, the overall goal of the program is about so much more than academic learning or results. “When you increase empathy, you decrease rates of depression, anxiety, and bullying. That’s the research from around the world,” says Kavanagh. “That’s what we’re doing with Kindness on Purpose.”
Many of the current Kindness on Purpose schools have a significant number of pupils from traumatic backgrounds, but these pupils are not singled out or treated differently under the program. Instead, it is all-inclusive, involving every child, every teacher and every member of the support staff. The schools are wrapped in kindness and empathy, and the children are encouraged to continue to practise kindness and empathy at home and in their communities.
Cavanagh’s Kindness on Purpose program has already reached thousands of children across Australia, and she hopes to reach one million children – enough to spark a generational shift in empathy, she hopes. With the first Kindness on Purpose session having taken place in 2005, the concept is now starting to mature, and it will be fascinating to see how these children go on to implement the kindness and empathy which is now second nature to them. This incredible idea, to put empathy at the heart of our children’s learning, could be a spark to ignite the sea change we all long to see.
*For further information about this research, please visit below website.