Growing hearts of kindness

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If you’ve ever been in a Head Start classroom, you may be familiar with a kindness tree. The basic premise is to reinforce kind behaviors by giving the child labeled praise and allowing him or her to put a heart on the tree. “Katie, I saw you help your friend clean up and you didn’t even make that mess. That was so kind of you! I think you made Gabe happy when you did that. Come put a heart on the tree so we can remember the kind thing you did today!” Pointing out the feeling of the person receiving the act of kindness is really important to reinforce too.
Great news though, these are not just successful behavior reinforcements in the classroom but also at home! I have a kindness tree in my therapy office that I use to reinforce kind behaviors observed during sessions or based on what caregivers and children report to me (“Yesterday I helped my little brother calm down when he was sad and gave him a hug.”).

I like the kindness tree because children love the tangible visual of the tree and the verbal praise from adults. Plus, what better behaviors to reinforce than empathy building skills?! When I make them in session with kiddos, I already have them laminated and allow the child to just help me cut out the tree and hearts and add the Velcro while we talk about the type of behaviors that can allow them to put a heart on the tree when they get home. I tell parents they can attach an incentive to the tree but the labeled praise and excitement is usually enough. “Wow! You two filled up the entire tree with hearts today for all of the kind things you did! I’m so proud of you both! Do you remember some of the kind things you did? Let’s try to remember so we can tell Daddy when he gets home today.” Bottom line: the bigger deal the adults make out of it, the more on board the kids are going to be. I have been seeing some children in therapy for over a year and they still get excited and love putting hearts on the tree in my office! I have used them with children ages 3-7, but I’m sure they could even be used with slightly older children. All kids love attention and praise. 🙂

HOW TO MAKE IT:
There are plenty of different ways to make the tree. The kindness tree in my therapy office is just under four feet tall and made with felt (so the hearts stick easily).

When I make these with children in session for them to take home, I use a laminated enlarged clip art tree and laminated hearts with Velcro dots to stick to the tree.
TIPS: if you go the laminated route, make sure to be consistent in putting all the same side of the Velcro dots on the hearts and the other side of the Velcro dots on the tree (if they get mixed up its harder to find a spot for the heart).
Also, a side note on the word “kindness:” I really like using the word “kind” vs. “nice” because I think it holds more meaning. “Nice is used so much in our language it loses significance: “nice haircut, nice boat, nice weather,” etc. And if children don’t know what “kind” means, this provides a great opportunity to learn! How many hearts of kindness can you grow today??

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