In this season of gift giving, there is much emphasis on a child’s reaction to the holidays and their gifts. I remember my own kids’ excitement when they opened a gift that they thought was “so cool.” I felt joy, just seeing them feel joy! After all, Christmas is about the kids, right? It’s about seeing their faces light up when someone gives them a gift or they have a new experience. I’d like to challenge that notion by suggesting that the joy that I experienced watching someone else receive a gift that he really wanted, is a joy that children should experience as well.
So how do you get young ones to think about someone else? Children can be self-involved for very good reasons. They are figuring out how to get what they need through practice: asking for it over and over again, sometimes in more gracious ways than others. However, there are several ways that we can encourage kids to look beyond themselves to be generous in order to experience the joy of givingFirst of all, building a child’s empathy for others is crucial. There is no better way to get out of being self-focused than trying to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Seeing strong emotion in movie or book characters and asking your child, “How do you think that person is feeling?” prompts empathy. It can even happen with siblings or strangers and then awaken a sense of generosity towards them.
Furthermore, noticing a child’s generosity will reinforce it. Children can be naturally generous, especially if they are with someone they want to please. Even though there may be self-centeredness entwined in sharing their cookies with a friend, noticing and remarking on it can help the child feel validated when they are doing something that might feel a little hard. When given positive attention, an action that is hard may take on a brave or courageous quality. Then that feeling of bravery becomes associated with generosity and the nobleness of generosity is highlighted for the child.
In addition, your own attitude about generosity is one of the biggest influences on your child’s propensity to be generous. If they see you extending yourself to be helpful to others, giving to charitable organizations (not just at holidays), and practicing kindness in small ways, they will follow your pattern and see these acts as a healthy habit. Having moments everyday when you excuse a mistake that is made or acknowledge a server’s work in a restaurant will communicate an attitude of generosity, not just an act of generosity.
An example of practicing generosity as a family could be to pick a family project that creates a holiday tradition as well as setting a generous example. Perhaps volunteering at a food pantry, making cards for residents at a nursing home or making cookies for your neighbors could be ways that kids can be involved hands-on in generosity. It will also give you time together as a family, building memories of the times your family shows generosity again and again.
However you encourage generosity in your children, you can count on the fact that when humans are generous, gratefulness arises, and when someone is grateful, contentment is found. I hope we can all find that kind of contentment this year!
The main ideas in this blog come from “Tips for Raising Generous Children,” an article found on the Childmind® Institute website. (Tips for Raising Generous Children)