Teaching Our Children the Importance of Giving

 Are you children givers?

Everyone wants a child that is generous and caring,however these traits are typically something we need to encourage and nurture through the stages of childhood. 

A give-me generation? 

One of the biggest concerns reflected is that many parents question that our children have more things than ever, but they don’t seem any happier! How do we facilitate our children in cherishing the art of giving instead of always receiving? Our society is too focused on material goods that no matter how much we rationalize the contentment behind giving and sharing with others, the next generation doesn’t seem to corroborate this ideology. During a survey, 70% of American parents admitted that their children are not involved in charitable activities. 

For kids, altruism comes naturally, Psychologists says

What does it mean to be altruistic? It is essentially defined as selfless concern for the well-being of others. Do we tend to give others, despite the personal consequences, for the sake of personal gain? Will this still be characterized as altruism? This has been a debate for over centuries now. Is there anything like a selfless, generous act? Or do we indulge in the act of giving to be awarded as a virtuous being, or do we have an intrinsic desire to feel meaningful in other people’s lives and stay connected to them? Introspecting our motivation is itself important to understand the importance of giving. 

Are children inclined towards generosity, kindness, and compassion? There is abundant scientific evidence that corroborates the fact that kids should be receptive to these messages. The research indicates that children have a deep-rooted instinct to share and give to others. According to the study conducted by the University of British Columbia, toddlers enjoy giving to others more than receiving treats for themselves. In the experiment, the children voluntarily gave away their possession indicating that the act of personal sacrifice was itself emotionally rewarding for them. The contentment in helping others is an innate part of human nature, says Aknin. 

J.K Hamlin, assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of British Columbia, says, “many people think that children are inherently selfish and we need to teach them how to be nice and feel good about giving to others.” However, we don’t need to upskill children to feel good about giving, as they are naturally altruistic, says Hamlin. 

Does sharing come naturally to children? 

Drop a cup in front of a toddler, and she is likely to pick it up for you. Can’t open the door because the cabinet is full? You can count on your little one to open the door for you. They all might seem like cute gestures, but according to Michael Tomasello, from walking to talking to becoming cultural beings, human children are naturally cooperative and helpful in many ways. They don’t instill this art from their adults; rather, it is instinctual. He studied toddlers’ behavior, who were put in 10 different situations in which an adult stranger needed help to attain the goal. Nearly every toddler helped in at least one of the tasks, and they did so almost immediately, without any praise or reward, which is true for altruism. 

Except for my daughter! Or so it seems, most of the time is spent unsuccessfully negotiating conflicts between my 4-year-old and her cousins, over toys, snacks, a turn on the swing, you name it –end of the story. There are two possible explanations, whether she is exceptionally self-centered or I have failed as a parent. But that is not completely true, as she has amazed me with her utmost care and compassion towards her family members and neighbors. But I can’t shake the feeling when this little one is ready to do everything in her power to get that toy. All of the above theories don’t corroborate when I observe the behavior of my daughter and a few other kids I have come across. The key lies in nurturing the inner motivation for giving out of love and respect.

Knowing how to give with the intentions doesn’t come naturally

That’s true! It has to be something the child deliberately wants to do, rather than seeing it as a chore imposed by elders. And that feeling doesn’t come in naturally; it can be instilled by modeling and reinforcement. Facilitating the children to experience the happiness that comes from within by giving others is one of the most important ideologies to inculcate generosity among them, says Lara Aknin, an assistant professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University. Moreover, educating children about the importance of giving can aid them in understanding the causes they care about, opening their eyes to valuable tools that can bring change around them. On the other hand, it sets off a vicious cycle of giving. 

Giving back should prompt a positive experience for your entire family, flaunting an enduring impact on your children. If children find joy in the experience of giving back, it will become something they want to do regularly,  says Anderson.

So how can one ensure that giving makes our kids feel good to set off this vicious cycle of giving, which makes children happy, and happiness prompts giving? 

Modeling generosity

Does your attitude towards other people reflect the kindness and sensitivity you would like to teach your children? Unfortunately, it is often that our children aren’t aware of your little deeds of helping people selflessly. For example, does your child see you running errands for your needy neighbor or giving charity to the struggling family? 

Talk to them and do it together

Let them know when you lend a helping hand to others and talk about your feelings when you give or make charitable contributions to society. Does it make you grateful that you can make a significant difference in the life of those in need? Ask your children to assist you in picking up the food donations or rashan bags or spend an afternoon at a community cleanup project. A study was conducted by Bryan and Walbek, concluding that pro-social behaviors can be instilled via observational learning.  Kids tend to be more kind and generous if they observe one of the parents modeling generosity for them. 

Starting a conversation with kids about the causes has a greater impact than that modeling alone. A study led by Ottooni- Wilhelm found that adolescents whose parents have been making charitable contributions to the organizations are 18% likely to model that behavior. But if you donate and talk to your child about how you feel when you give to others, it was deduced that the likelihood of donation among adolescents rose to 33%. 

Praise the giving impulse 

Reinforce the importance of giving among children by appreciating them or helping them point out the positive feelings they experience as they help others. I appreciate the idea of kids doing charitable work and understanding the significance of giving by reinforcing the idea each month. Bandura’s social learning theory indicates that learning a new behavior depends on the observation of a model.  The persistent performance of the behavior is correlated to the reinforcements and rewards. 

Empathy – Lean into emotions

Empathy is the most basic attribute that alerts us to the needs of others, thus motivating us to fix them in whatever best possible way, says Kiley Hamlin, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia. To foster giving among the kids, it is important to help them recognize that their act of generosity can make a difference. Tap into the kid’s propensity for empathy, help them connect to other humans by seeing the world through their empathetic mind, to feel the pain that is real and hard to ignore. Instill the idea by stimulating their emotions, especially when corroborating the importance of giving to others. 

Encourage creative thinking

Tap into their creative minds and see how they can use their imaginative minds to recognize someone in need. It bolsters empathy and opens doors to our minds to see things from a different perspective. Moreover, it nurtures a sense of togetherness and cooperation. For instance, the child notices the other kid is crying but feels overwhelmed and avoids intervening. Only a creative mind can connect reflection with action and motivate children to sense the signals that need to be addressed there and then. 

Help them see the impact 

Enable your children to envision the impact of what their good deeds can bring to society to exude everlasting impact. Seeing the trees they have planted grow or the smile on the child’s face they see when they share a toy instill the desire to give without personal gains. Studies indicate giving instills further giving when the giver can see the payoff. A study conducted by Aknin on the toddlers revealed that the children enjoyed giving the treat more than receiving it because they could see the impact of their generosity –a monkey puppet.

A parting thought!

It is never too late to instill the habit of giving or to engage the children with the concept of being compassionate or generous. It can set the stage for better health and mental well-being. Such acts of kindness stimulate the reward in our brain with the release of the hormone dopamine that uplifts our mood and exudes a positive vibe. The voluntary acts alleviate the signs of depression and stress, boasting positive values. Patience and modeling go hand in hand towards helping your child develop the spirit of generosity that is gratifying and evokes gratitude at both the giver and receiver end.

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