Teaching A Child About Generosity

Many children are not naturally generous creatures. Although studies have identified early forms of behaviors that indicate generosity in infants, children frequently are too focused on themselves and their own desires to truly earn the label “generous.”

Most parents wish that their children would learn – and practice – generosity. Fortunately, there are ways for parents to teach and encourage those types of behaviors in children.

Modeling Generous Behavior us the Most Effective Tool

One of the best ways for parents to teach generosity to their children is to practice it themselves, experts agree. Most children – especially younger ones – learn by observing and imitating, which means any generous gestures on your part most likely will be echoed by your children.

Therefore, it’s important for you to practice what you preach. For example, if you want your child to say “please” and “thank you,” you should say them yourself, every time. If you want your child to value charitable giving, you should show them how to do it. Clean out your closet and donate clothes you don’t use to the Salvation Army, or make dinner and bring it to a friend who’s having a tough time.

Everyone – including children and adults – has occasional selfish-sounding impulses, so don’t beat yourself up if you experience one in front of your children. If your behavior exemplifies generosity the vast majority of the time, your children should learn generosity, too.

Talk About the Need of Others

Even in this culture of “me! me! me!” it’s possible to encourage a child to think of others’ needs first. To do this, you need to remind your child that there are other people in her life whose needs and wants matter.

For example, if your school-age child begs you for a particular toy or game, ask if she wants to buy it for a friend whose birthday is approaching. If your preschooler nags for a particular brand of cookies in the grocery store, prod him to think of what his sister might prefer, instead of what he wants for himself.

The holidays represent a particularly important time to stress generosity, since they’ve come to represent consumption, rather than giving. To turn the tables on the prevailing mood, consider shopping together for a Christmas charity, or choose items at the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.

Disapprove of Selfish Behaviors

It’s just as important to show you disapprove of selfish behaviors as it is to indicate you approve of generous impulses. All children (and many adults) will have “toddler tantrum moments” where they’re unable to play well with other children, but you need to indicate from an early age that this type of selfishness isn’t acceptable on a regular basis.

Still, a harsh reprimand may not be as effective as talking about the incident, especially if you save your conversation until after your child has calmed down. Ask your child why she behaved the way she did, and listen to her answer. Did she fear a prized possession would be ruined? Did she feel as if she had compromised too much?

In some cases, you’ll find there really wasn’t any excuse for your child’s behavior, but in others, you may find you understand why she acted as she did. Regardless of the underlying reasons for her outburst, you should use the event as an opportunity to explain how she could have handled the situation better, rather than simply berating her for handling it badly.

Raising generous children is a process, and there will be times when you’ll experience disappointment and dismay at your child’s selfish impulses. However, if you continue modeling the behaviors you want to encourage, helping your child remember to think of others before herself, and talking about lapses in judgment, you’ll be teaching her the right lessons.

About Marion Witte

Marion Witte was born and raised on a farm on the prairies of North Dakota. It was there that she acquired her Midwestern work ethic and her philosophy of helping others. Marion enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur, and upon selling her various business interests she began pursuing a life of philanthropy. She is passionate and outspoken about the need for radical changes in the way we view children and parenting. Her memoir “Little Madhouse on the Prairie” relays the story of her life, and it is the basis of her commitment to this work. She founded and manages the Angel Heart Foundation and its sister organizations “Next Generation Parenting” and “Brave New Leaders.”

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