Every parent wants their child to grow up into a kind, compassionate, and generous adult. But if you’ve ever been around a two-year-old declaring “MINE” over a treasured toy, it becomes clear just how selfish children are wired to be. The truth is it takes effort to teach good character – but the good news is that the earlier you start, the easier it will be.
Here are some practical (yet simple) ideas to help your young child develop a generous, giving spirit that will serve them well into adulthood.
Play the gratitude game
A healthy sense of gratitude is the basis for a generous spirit, but unfortunately, kids don’t recognize their blessings without a little help from their parents. They don’t understand that not every family has a hot meal on the table at night, or that some kids don’t even get to live with their parents.
Help your child identify the good things in their life by setting aside time each day to name things that they’re thankful for. You can do this by taking turns around the dinner table, make it part of your routine as you’re tucking them in at night, or just talk about it casually as you’re driving in the car. Be forewarned that small kids might get silly about it, but don’t let that throw you off.
My daughter used to say, “I’m thankful for my curtains!” and I reflected that back to her by saying “That’s a great thing to be thankful for. That means you have windows in your very own bedroom. Lots of kids don’t have that, so you’re very lucky.”
Sometimes the conversations might feel flippant, but trust me – you’re building the foundation.
Don’t just give at Christmas
Opportunities abound for giving during the holidays. Non-profits, schools, and churches host food and clothing drives or adopt-a-family programs. And while these are fantastic ways for your child to see your family participating in giving opportunities, find ways to make generosity a part of your life all year round. Some of my favorites include
- Search for local baby-supply drives and take your child shopping with you.
- Sign up to sponsor a child in a third-world country; let your child choose which child to “adopt” and write them letters regularly throughout the year.
- Have your child go through their toys and choose a few to donate to a local thrift store that funds a cause you support.
It’s great to participate in specific giving programs or donation drives, but your child also needs to see you being generous spontaneously to understand that’s it’s just simply an integral part of your life and character. If you’re walking into the grocery store and there’s a food drive, help your child pick out a few items from the list or grab a pack of diapers
to donate while explaining that some families don’t have enough money to buy those things. Randomly decide to bake cookies and deliver them to an elderly neighbor. If a friend finds themselves in desperate need of last-minute childcare, offer to help. Show your child that generosity can be spontaneous and doesn’t always include money – you can also be generous with your time.
Be aware of your own hang-ups about giving
Let’s be honest – giving can be complicated to us adults. We begin to make distinctions about worthy vs. unworthy recipients of our generosity, or we cringe when our child suggests they want to give all of the money in their piggy bank to whatever cause they’re supporting. Kids can’t make a distinction, and if you start explaining to your young child why they should tone down their generosity, it will confuse them. When your child approaches you with an idea to give, think before you answer. Will you be encouraging them in developing a generous spirit, or teaching them to hold onto their money and possessions more tightly? Respond in a way that helps them to develop the character you want.
Make sacrifice seem fun
Choose a cause with your kids and make it a game to see how much money you can save toward it. Include them as much as you can in the decision-making process. “Let’s see how much money we can save this month, and then we’ll give it to the school PTA for their fundraiser. If we don’t order pizza tonight, we’ll save $20 and put it in the jar. What would you like to do?”
Make it practical and visual – watching coins and bills collect in a jar on the counter will make the giving much more real to your kids – and trying to fill it up makes their sacrifice a game!
To sum it up
Kids need the guidance of their parents to experience how rewarding generosity can be. As with most things parenting-related, the work up front can be arduous, but the long-term payoffs will be worth it. Finding ways to make giving both practical and exciting will help develop a spirit of generosity in your young child’s character that will continue to grow and develop as they mature. What are some practical ways that you foster generosity in your children?
Here are some related products from Amazon that you might like. Just click on the photo or the description to be redirected to Amazon where you can purchase the products.