November seems to be the month where we think of others. Donation drives and asking for wish lists become the season’s norm. But, as much as WE understand the concept of giving to others, do our kids know what it means to be generous to one another?
Generosity is the act of improving another person’s well-being without seeking some form of compensation in return. It’s the sensitivity and empathy we offer others; something we want our kids to experience first-hand.
Me First and the Gimme-Gimmes
Our 4-year-old son recently grasped the idea he receives gifts on two important occasions, his birthday and Christmas. As the annual Amazon gift catalog came in the mail, he began circling the items he would like to receive for the holidays. Although I applaud his initiative of putting together his wish list, it made me wonder if he thought of others and what they may want or need? Not just of strangers, but also his family and friends.
As parents, we hope to raise kind and caring children. But that altruistic spirit doesn’t necessarily come naturally and so, we must show them the way.
You Only Get What You Give
There has been much research on the topic of generosity, revealing not only the impact it has on the recipient, but also on the giver.
- Multiple studies have found that giving to charities or performing acts of kindness to others activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.
- A study found that when kids were praised for doing good deeds, like generosity, their self-esteem improved compared to receiving acclaim without doing anything to warrant it.
- Several studies have suggested that giving promotes a sense of trust and cooperation, developing positive social interactions with others.
- Researchers have discovered that altruism could spread by three degrees (from person to person to person) after witnessing generous behavior done by others. Just like in Pay It Forward.
So, how do we help our kids understand the importance of giving? We have some ideas.
Turning “Me” into “We”
You can’t expect your child to just get the concept of giving. It’s something they must observe and experience for themselves. Here’s some ways to help model and build the foundations of generosity:
- Sharing is Caring – One way to help your kid learn what it means to give is by teaching them the significance of sharing. That can be taking turns playing with a favorite toy or splitting a cookie together so both parties can enjoy the tasty treat. These simple and concrete actions can help build a window into thinking of others and developing empathy.
- Model Citizen – Children watch their parents to understand what is expected of them as they get older. We can collect canned goods for a food drive or put spare change into a Santa bucket, but our kids may not process these as good deeds to others. Let them know when you perform acts of kindness, and explain to them why you do. It helps them understand your actions and learn to imitate them during play.
- Be About It – It’s one thing to show or tell your kids about giving, it’s another when they are participating in it. Let them gain a first-hand experience. This could be helping you collect items for the Humane Society, asking what coats or items of clothing around the house they could give to a coat drive, or even thinking about what a friend or family member would want for Christmas (or other gift-giving occasions). They can play an active role and provide a real contribution.
- Call Them Out – When you see your child spontaneously doing something kind (like opening the door for somebody or cleaning up their sibling’s mess), let them know. Praise them and help them label the positive feelings they may be having at the moment.
- When Opportunity Knocks – Children are observant of their surroundings. So when they notice something (animal rescue fundraiser flyer or a box for Toys for Tots), talk to them about it. They may ask questions and if they are intrigued by it, ask them if and how they’d like to help. They may want to purchase a new toy to donate or help run a neighborhood toy drive with their friends. You’d be surprised by the ideas your child may have that can go above and beyond what is being asked.
- Story Time – There are a lot of children’s books that talk about generosity and kindness towards others, but the best stories are the ones from your own personal experience. By sharing what kind people have done for you in the past, whether that was giving you a hug when you were sad or having ready-made meals delivered because you were exhausted, shows your child the impact of what giving your time/money/effort can do for people. It also lets them see that we all will need help when we’re down one day, bringing a sense of community and trust with others.
- Appreciation – The one thing we forget to acknowledge is the acceptance of kindness and care from others. Generosity and gratitude go hand and hand. Science tells that giving elicits gratitude. Let them help you write those thank you notes, giving them a chance to reflect and appreciate others for their thoughtfulness.
As we’ve said before, you are the best model for your child’s behavior. The holidays are the perfect time to show your kids how they can make a positive impact just by the act of giving. With this guidance, our kids will make thoughtfulness and giving a natural part of their life.
Teach Generosity by Encouraging Giving: The Best Gift of All, The Center for Parenting Education
5 Ways Giving Is Good for You | Greater Good (berkeley.edu)
Generosity – What’s in it for you? | Psychology Today