This Fun Experiment Will Teach Kids About Kindness

How "The Rice Experiment" led to a lengthy family discussion on kindness and the power of words
A brother and sister walking down a sidewalk each holding the handle of a bucket
© Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

We have all felt the pain of harsh words or intentions. They create an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach or a rush of adrenaline because your body believes it’s under attack. Name-calling and being snubbed or ignored can be just as hurtful as actually being physically hit, unlike the old saying would have us believe.

A few months ago, after breaking up a typical sibling squabble between my kids, knowing that yet another lecture about how we treat each other would fall on deaf ears, I decided it was time to demonstrate the harmful effects of ill words and intentions—and I had just the idea to get them to pay attention!

A kind thought experiment

The late Japanese researcher, Dr. Masaru Emoto, was well-known for his unusual assertion that human consciousness can affect the molecular structure of water. His research suggested that our thoughts and intentions alone could impact the physical world and that harsh or unfriendly human words, meaning, and sound can negatively impact water’s atomic arrangement in living beings. Sounds implausible, right?

While there are those both in support of and those who reject Emoto’s pseudo-scientific study, the overall concept of how our words and intentions can have positive or negative impacts on the world around us is certainly a thought-provoking idea. I decided to do a variation on an experiment he performed with rice with my children and was completely unprepared for the results!

The Rice Experiment

3 large mason jars                           
cooked white rice (enough to fill each jar halfway)                                                             
tape or labels
1.  Fill each jar halfway with rice. Add enough water so that the water just covers the rice. Screw on lid.
2. Affix a label on each of the jars. Write “love” on one, “hate” on another, and leave the last one blank.
3. Let the experiment begin! Every day for one month, spend time speaking to each jar of rice individually. To the love one, say only kind things like “I love you”, “thank you”, “I’m grateful for you”, and “you’re wonderful”. To the hate one, say only cruel things like “I hate you,” or “get away from me”. Ignore the unnamed rice jar completely.

At first it felt funny speaking kind words to a jar full of rice and water, so we had our share of giggles over the whole thing. But the giggles had positive intentions attached to them, so we giggled away. Words of hate were very difficult. It was horrible. It felt wrong, even if we were just talking to rice. None of us enjoyed this part at all.

We wondered about that third jar just sitting there. Was it absorbing both the love and hate, or, to Emoto’s point, was it not affected by either because that’s not where our intentions were focused?

“Vibrate good energy into others soul; making them never forget the beauty of yours”. -unknown

At first not much was happening: it was just rice in water and awkward one-way conversations. But, a little over a week into the experiment we began to notice changes that were pretty astonishing! The cup labeled “love” changed slightly in colour, but there was no sign of rot or mold. There wasn’t even an “off” smell! The cup labeled “hate,” however, suffered a different fate. To our surprise, it had grown a significant amount of mold.

But it was the “ignored” jar that really stopped us in our tracks. It was by far the most putrefied looking one of all. It was an even darker hue of blueish/black mold than the hate jar, and had a little mountainous growth on top of the rice.

Needless to say, the experiment opened up a lengthy discussion. We talked about how it made us feel when we giggled or spoke words of love versus how we felt when speaking words of hate. We all agreed, rice or not, it didn’t feel right. We also touched on the topic of negative self-talk and the horrible things we can all say to ourselves from time to time, like “you can’t do it” and “who do you think you are?” We also discussed what it felt like to be ignored or left out of a group.

Did this mean the end of family squabbles? Nope. We still struggle, but the experiment gave us a memorable opportunity to be conscious of the power of our words. Does this mean we can go say kind things to our oceans and solve the pollution problem? Probably not. But putting the focus on caring about our intentions and the consequences of our actions have benefits that are hard to disbelieve. And if the experiment doesn’t work, that’s okay! Experiment fails are still experiments attempted and the very least you’ve accomplished is an open dialogue! 

Read more expert advice on how to raise kind and caring kids.