In an era when preschools take applications, middle school sports teams are semi-professional, and college admissions are more competitive than ever, the idea of a family taking time to practice “random acts of kindness” almost seems quaint. Still, experts say this is one tradition that’s far from outdated.

“Kindness improves students’ self-esteem and the school climate,” according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit with the sole purpose of teaching people to be nice to each other. “Whether academically proficient or not, students are given a way to excel through kindness, and excel they do.”

It’s not only struggling students who benefit from spreading good will. During difficult or stressful times, taking positive action is empowering to students and adults alike. And kindness, a uniquely human trait, encourages empathy and helps develop the kind of strong interpersonal skills that children will use their whole lives. In fact, by including both strangers and acquaintances, practicing “random” acts of kindness draws children out of their own small network and introduces them to the whole diverse world around them.

So, how can you get started? The good news about being kind is that the inspiration is all around you, and it needn’t be truly “random.” Coined in response to the all-too-often heard phrase “random acts of violence,” random in this context means only that the kindness should be directed towards the people we don’t always notice or appreciate. It could be a complete stranger, but it could also be the clerk at the grocery store, or the janitor at the gymnastics studio.

Brainstorm with your children about opportunities, and tailor suggestions to their ages and interests. Kindness needn’t be big to make a big impression. A little boy who decorates a thank you card and tapes it to the underside of the trash bin can make a huge difference in the day of the sanitation workers who do a tough and very necessary job. A teenage girl who spontaneously volunteers to baby-sit the neighbor’s toddler brings happiness to two people – the harried mom in dire need of a break and the rambunctious child itching for a new playmate.

Do you know a teacher who could use a sincere thank you? Have you read a news story about a family who needs new winter coats, or a charity struggling to keep its doors open? Have your kids keep their eyes open – they’re sure to spot someone who needs help picking up the books they dropped or reaching an item on a high shelf.

A spontaneous smile from a young child or a sincere compliment from an older one can make everyone’s day a little brighter. Help your kids learn to help others. Because it’s never too early to learn to be kind.