Can kindness help improve families' brain health? It has been found in a recent study that kindness training can increase parents' resilience and children's empathy, proving to be a "powerful brain booster."
For their study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, a team of researchers from the Center for BrainHealth had a close look at whether practices of kindness by the parents with their pre-school-aged children would affect brain health.
"Resilience research shows that factors such as engaging in acts of kindness, developing trusting relationships, and responding compassionately to the feelings of others can help lay new neural pathways and improve quality of life," the researchers wrote. "Yet, little research has investigated the effects of brain healthy parental practices of kindness with pre-school aged children."
The researchers conducted their study on 38 pairs of mothers and their 3- to 5-year-old children who engaged in a four-week online kindness curriculum, which included exercises that the parents and children could do to learn about kindness.
Brain health was measured as resilience in parents and empathy in children, with the parents completing questionnaires on their resilience and their children's empathetic behaviors before and after the training. The researchers conducted the study during the peak of the pandemic.
"We hypothesized that parents who engaged with the online kindness activities with their preschool-aged children would boost parental levels of resilience and parent reported child empathic pro-social behavior levels," the researchers wrote.
Indeed, the researchers found that the parents were more resilient and their children were more empathetic after they underwent the kindness training, according to the Center for BrainHealth.
They also provided some of the parents with additional brain health education to see if making them understand the science behind the program would affect their results, but there was no "significant" difference with the additional teachings.
Interestingly, however, even if the children's empathy increased, it was still considered below average. According to the researchers, it could be because the "isolating nature" of the COVID-19 pandemic had restricted their normal "social and emotional learning" outside the home.
Overall, the results show how kindness is a "powerful brain health booster that can increase resilience and empathy," the researchers noted.
"In times of stress, taking a moment to practice kindness for yourself and model it for your children can boost your own resilience and improve your child's prosocial behaviors," one of the study authors, Julie Fratantoni of the BrainHealth Project, said in the Center for BrainHealth's news release. "Do not underestimate the power of kindness, because it can ultimately change and shape brain health."
Moreover, researchers noted that apart from being something that the family can do together to increase parents' resilience and kids' empathy, especially amid the pandemic stresses, this may also have "broader public health implications."