It is natural for children to be somewhat self-involved. Their primary focus, especially when they are young, is making sure that their needs are met by the people around them. This generally means that kids learn to ask for the things they want fairly early in their development, and they will have many opportunities to perfect their technique.
But as kids mature, it also becomes necessary for them to look outside their own needs and begin being more responsive to the needs of others. Parents play a big role in helping kids develop generosity, both through encouragement and example.
Here are some guiding principles to keep in mind for raising generous kids.
Generosity starts with thinking about how others feel. Children are naturally egotistical, but parents can cultivate empathy by helping children imagine how others feel. This can be an everyday occurrence (How do you think your brother felt when you took his toy?) or you can seek out occasions for empathy, like participating in a food or clothing drive. Choosing something special to give to someone their own age will make kids feel more connected.
Praise generous deeds
Children will naturally do nice things for others from time to time. If you notice a nice gesture, like sharing a toy, giving a compliment or helping carry in groceries, praise your child for the behavior. Positive recognition for something makes a child more likely to continue doing it.
Set an example
From the moment they’re born kids look to parents for cues on how to behave. Talking to kids about giving back is important, but setting an example of generosity in your own life — including an elderly relative in plans, volunteering at the school fair, pitching in with the dishes after a big dinner — shows kids you really mean it.
Pick a charity
Kids can get into the act of giving back by choosing a charity for the family to donate to. If every member of the family chooses a cause to support, however modestly, it can start a conversation about what each person values. Supporting a charity also makes kids feel proud and might even launch a new tradition, especially if it is timed around a holiday or birthday.
Generosity can happen every day
Often when we think of generosity it’s in terms of gift-giving or volunteering, but generosity can also be a spontaneous part of your day. Let children know that it is always good to look for little ways to make a positive difference in someone’s day, like pitching in to speed up a sibling’s chores, or being kind to someone after they’ve made a mistake.
Making cookies, cards and small presents can be fun for kids, and giving them to people in their community can make them feel part of something bigger. Whether they’re neighbors or teachers, the local crossing guard or the choir director, acknowledging them strengthens ties and reminds kids to appreciate the people in their lives.