Two years ago, I worked in a primary school as their resident NLP4Kids practitioner. One of the requests that the school had made to me was to help the pupils, over the course of the term that I worked with them, to build up their levels of resilience.
The school reported that many children ‘cried wolf’ at the drop of a hat and were not formulating their own ways to resolve disputes with each other. The teachers were finding themselves getting tied up in ‘he-said-she-said’ situations and didn’t feel that the pupils were being robust when other children were pushing the boundaries with them. This had lead to a perceived culture of bullying. In fact, it was more as if some children were very sensitive and hadn’t yet formulated the best way to respond if someone said “You’ve done that wrong” or “That’s my ruler, give it back” than there being bullying in the ‘usual’ sense.
One of the activities I started to bring into the sessions was called ‘The Random Act of Kindness’. Now you might be wondering “What does being kind have to do with building resilience?” In the beginning it would be fair to say very little. However, over the course of the 10 weeks, I moved the goal posts to get the children interacting in a meaningful way towards those they had previous believed they had had a problem with.
In the first week, it was very simple, they had to perform a random act of kindness for a friend. The following week they had to report back on the kind thing that they did and the effect that this had. Of course all of them wanted their air-time and the acknowledgement that came with them having completed the task. But what we also began to acknowledge is that sometimes there’s no pay-off from being kind to other people. In the beginning, they did the act because they thought it might get the other person to reciprocate and therefore they would gain something by being nice.
For some of them though, they were frustrated, reporting “She didn’t even say thank you!” which lead to a conversation about being a decent person for the sake of being a decent person, not because you expect payment for it in some way.
As the weeks passed, I began to make the random act of kindness challenges more tricky by setting the person they had to be kind to as someone further from them or someone who was perceived to be superior to them, for example their teacher.
The penultimate week I spend with them, I set the random act of kindness challenge as one that they had to do for someone who had previously been unkind to them or wronged them in some way. There was an audible gasp as they processed my request. I told them it was the final hurdle in being able to face up to someone and resolve an issue with them.
Not all of them did it, but I remember one boy, on the last week coming back to share his random act of kindness. He bravely talked in front of the group and said that he had done his act of kindness for someone else who was in the group. They had initially been good friends but had fallen out a few weeks earlier over something silly. Both had made bad comments about the other and they had kept their distance from each other since.
The random act of kindness had opened the door to them reconnecting and communicating. They were both able to say how they’d understood each others communication at the time that they had rowed and how they could have both handled it better and would do if faced with the same situation again in the future.
By Gemma Bailey