On World Kindness Day – and every day – emotional awareness education matters

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

At a time when nurturing the emotional resilience of children is more essential than ever, World Kindness Day on 13 November encourages us to focus on fostering safe and inclusive environments. When we do so, say experts, there is significant potential to enhance students’ emotional well-being.

Rochelle Borton is an education entrepreneur, mother-of-six, and founder/managing director of EduInfluencers – a leading Australian professional development program specialising in delivering workshops, coaching, and strategic consulting for educators, teams, schools, and school leaders.

 By emphasising the positive impact peer support programs play in creating nurturing school environments, Ms Borton advocates for integrating discussions on empathy and kindness into the curriculum. The results, she says are sustainable changes that extend beyond one special day.

She believes teaching effective stress management techniques – including breathing exercises, mindfulness activities, and simple relaxation – helps ensure that emotional learning and kindness education are woven into the fabric of the school day, enriching the overall learning experience for students.

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Schools should nurture and support

“Ensuring elevated emotional well-being in schools is crucial because it creates a nurturing environment where students feel supported and understood through every step of their schooling journey.” Ms Borton told EducationDaily.

“From kindy, straight through to high school, when students’ emotional needs are met, they can focus better on learning and developing healthy coping mechanisms for life’s challenges that extend beyond the classroom. Adequately preparing children to positively engage in society and providing them with the skills to cope effectively with the challenges that life presents beyond primary and tertiary education needs to be considered as important as teaching subject fundamentals such as mathematics and English.”

As well as introducing focused mindfulness activities, Ms Borton says some practical ways to implement this education include fostering open communication channels between all involved (student and teachers, student and parents and parents and teachers). Providing access to mental health resources is also important.

“(This) will ultimately set up students for success and encourage greater awareness – of not only themselves, but others,” she says. “Additionally, creating a supportive network of trained professionals and peer support groups can also contribute to long-term sustainability.”

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Helping students feel safer and happier at kinder schools

As co-founder, Director and Research Lead at Kind Schools, Dr Sophie Lea agrees that kindness has never been more critical in Australian schools.

According to results from a recent Resilient Youth Survey, 32 per cent of primary school students experience anxiety, 29 per cent of school students are disengaged from learning, and 20 per cent from Years three to 12 do not feel safe at school.

“[Increasing kindness in schools is about] nurturing young people’s passions and contributions and building feelings of hopefulness through positive life experiences,” she told EducationDaily. “[We need to] provide ongoing psychoeducational and coping strategies – a ‘real world’ education built on young people’s strengths, a diverse range of help-seeking supports (youth forums, creative/ active approaches) in varied accessible ways, and champion stigma reduction and more accurate and open conversations about youth mental health, poverty, trauma and abuse.

With research revealing that young people aged eight-18 consider kindness vital to experiencing feelings of belonging, inclusion, care and healthy relationships, Dr Lea says the key takeaway is “kindness makes us and others feel good”.

“It’s about fostering a greater awareness and acceptance of what young people are experiencing and needing as our society evolves. Experiencing kindness increases our oxytocin levels, known as ‘the love hormone’. Kindness makes us feel uplifted and improves our bond and trust towards others.”

Dr Lea says teachers looking to develop kindness in their classrooms can follow this model as a positive first step towards creating kinder classrooms and kind schools:

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  • Kind mind – Discover what assists your mind to switch off from life’s pressures and feel at peace
  • Kind heart – Reflect on what makes your heart feel full and enables you to develop deeper gratitude for yourself and others
  • Kind body – Do something that enables you to connect your physicality and allows you to enjoy the awesomeness of your body
  • Kind fun – Identify something that provides you with frivolous joy or laughter with others and do it – more than once
  • Kind giving – Do something kind for someone else and notice how it makes you and them feel

Educators and families must work together

To make enhanced kindness part of everyday life, EduInfluencers’ Ms Borton says both educators and families play a key role.

“For students to feel supported and guided, there needs to be a synchronisation between school and home,” she told EducationDaily. “Schools can prioritise emotional well-being through inclusive policies and dedicated counsellors. Teachers can foster empathy through understanding and clear communication within the classroom, while families can reinforce emotional learning through open discussions at home. A simple conversation starter like ‘How was your day?’ can lead the conversation to honest discussion about emotions. The student’s role in this is also dependent on their personal situation. Where they feel safe and supported by teachers and parents, they too have the power and knowledge to support and encourage their peers.”

Schools should not shy away from playing a part in the emotional awareness education of young children.

“This approach differs from traditional methods by acknowledging the importance of mental health as fundamental to overall well-being,” Ms Borton says. “It shifts the sole focus of education away from academic achievement alone, toward a holistic approach that values emotional intelligence.”

Self-reflection is important

In a changing world where people are gaining a deeper understanding of the value of well-being and are becoming better at recognising the importance of fostering good mental health, Ms Borton says it has become more common for educators to look into how students are feeling and how they are managing their emotions “whilst placing a greater emphasis on well-being in all physical, social, emotional and spiritual aspects”. 

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To help nurture emotional awareness, key ingredients include:

  • teaching emotional literacy
  • encouraging self-reflection
  • promoting empathy
  • providing a safe space for open expression

“These elements cultivate emotional intelligence and help students recognise and manage their feelings effectively, promoting greater self-growth and awareness,” Ms Borton says.

Kindness and empathy are part of positive school culture

Raising the emotional awareness of school students helps create kinder classrooms by promoting culture, empathy and understanding.

“When students are aware of their own emotions and equipped with the tools to recognise and understand, they become more sensitive to others’ feelings and better able to empathise with peers,” she told EducationDaily. “This understanding leads to a supportive and compassionate classroom environment, where students are more likely to treat each other with kindness and respect.”

Ms Borton also believes teaching self-compassion and self-care is crucial.

“Encouraging positive self-talk, mindfulness practices, and emphasising the importance of self-respect can help children develop a strong sense of self-worth and kindness towards themselves, which naturally extends to others. Activities such as journalling, meditation and relaxation techniques can help children develop emotional resilience. Teaching children the value of positive self-talk and the importance of acknowledging their strengths and accomplishments can also boost their self-confidence and self-esteem. When a healthy relationship with yourself is formed, you are more likely to demonstrate kindness, empathy and understanding towards others.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live