This practice can take as little as five minutes.
How to Do It
There are many ways we can inspire our children to be kind, from the way we talk and praise them to the stories we read together. But there is another easy way to encourage kindness in kids: with music.
You can try making music alone with your child, but it might be even better to make music in a larger group. Invite your child and their friends, relatives, or new acquaintances to join in a circle and sing a song together. It doesn’t matter which song you pick; the song can be relatively short and have any theme, or simply be made up in that very moment. You can make music using only your own voices or by playing simple instruments—or homemade instruments like maracas or tambourines. You can even encourage a bit of dancing to make it more fun!
Research suggests that joint music-making can inspire kids to be generous afterward. This practice can be particularly helpful when we anticipate that our children will be presented with a request or an opportunity to share and help others (like at a birthday party or a play date with a new playmate) and we would like to see them embrace the occasion to be kind.
Why You Should Try It
Kindness is good for kids. School-age children who engage in kind acts benefit—they are more well-liked by their peers and have improved well-being. The benefits of kindness are even seen as early as toddlerhood—young children are happier when giving to others than when receiving.
As parents, we want to see our children be kind at home and at school. But the practice of sharing and helping can sometimes be challenging for young children because their perspective-taking skills and impulse-control abilities are still developing.
Making music together can foster connection and kindness between people, even if they have just met. If you facilitate this practice between your child and someone new—like a distant relative they’re meeting for the first time or a new student in class—they may have more positive “first impressions” of each other that could lead to a stronger relationship.
Why It Works
Across cultures, music is often incorporated into ceremonies of important events, such as weddings or initiation rites. Scholars suggest that music may have evolved as a tool to foster social bonding and group cohesion. As such, joint music making is a form of interaction that can help bring people together, increasing our willingness to care for and share our resources with one another.
Making music together may also lead to more eye contact, a social behavior that can promote helping and other cooperative behaviors.
Evidence That It Works
Beck, S. L., & Rieser, J. (2020). Non-random acts of kindness: Joint music making increases preschoolers’ helping and sharing with an adult. Psychology of Music.
Preschoolers between three and six years old were randomly assigned to one of two play activities: In the musical activity, one of the researchers sang a simple song and invited the child and another researcher to sing along and sway to the music; in the other activity, the researcher spoke the same song lyrics like a poem. During both activities, the researcher invited the child and the other researcher to play shakers. The study found that children in the musical activity more often shared stickers and spontaneously helped the researchers compared to the children who didn’t hear music.
Sara Beck, Ph.D., Randolph College
Parents are also role models for their children's generosity. Are you a giver or a Grinch? Take our Altruism quiz to find out.