Young children don’t naturally think about the needs of others, and that’s OK — it’s developmentally appropriate for them to be egocentric. They want to know when is it my turn, how long until my birthday, and yes, I will eat the last cookie in the box without asking if Mom got one.
Our job, as parents and educators, is to help children grow from “me, me, me” into a caring and giving adult.
The key is to nurture generosity whenever possible, at home and at school. Parents have many opportunities to show their children the value of giving to others. And at Primrose Schools® “giving without expectation” is an integral part of the Balanced Learning® curriculum.
“Our teachers talk about what it means to be a good citizen in the home, classroom and community,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of early childhood education research and development for Primrose Schools. “Children benefit from many opportunities to think about what other people need, not just me.”
The Roots of Empathy
Research suggests that children notice the emotions of others very early in life. Even babies can identify the emotional state of other babies and caregivers, says Dr. Lauren Starnes, vice president of early childhood education, research and development for Primrose Schools.
That’s why when one baby cries, the baby sitting next to her might respond with tears. He isn’t doing it to show empathy — not yet — but he is showing the ability to acknowledge feelings outside of his own. Teachers at Primrose schools encourage this development by modeling kindness and narrating key words; a teacher snuggling a baby might say, “Gentle touches, so nice, smiling, hugging, happy.”
During toddlerhood, children begin to understand kindness and reciprocity: My friend is crying so I’ll get them a teddy bear. Again, teachers can encourage this thinking: “Addie is making a sad face. What could we do to help her?”
“That’s how children learn; they mimic what they see,” Shaheen says. “The more opportunities children have to see and experience caring and giving, the better. Constant modeling leads to action.”
Parents can teach these lessons at home. Some of it is simply being generous whenever possible; children watch and absorb everyday interactions, like when Dad gives Mom the last piece of his birthday cake or when Mom puts a tip in the coffee shop jar. You can also give your children opportunities to give to others alongside you, perhaps by raking the neighbor’s yard or drawing a picture for a sick friend.
Care in the Classroom — and Beyond
Children at Primrose schools learn about giving without expectation in multiple ways throughout a typical day. The Balanced Learning curriculum includes stories like “The All-Together Quilt,” in which a community comes together to make a quilt that they give to the library so everyone can enjoy it.
The Primrose “Rules of the Roost,” posted in every classroom and referenced frequently by teachers, begin with a message of caring: “Be kind to yourself and others.”
Each November, Primrose schools participate in the Caring and Giving Food Drive, during which students collect nonperishable goods for people in need. Families of infants and toddlers are encouraged to bring in canned goods, while older children — preschool and pre-kindergarten — may do chores at home to earn the money to buy food items. In February, schools collect books to give to children without easy access to literature as part of the Og’s Bountiful Books initiative.
These initiatives offer Primrose families a way to participate in giving traditions and start flexing each child’s generosity muscle.
Children realize, “I did something for somebody else, and what I received back was a really good feeling. I feel happy and I feel proud,” Starnes says. “It’s about taking a tangible act of service and recognizing the intrinsic feeling that comes from that.”
For more about fostering generosity in children, check out:
- Ideas to Start a Giving Tradition in Your Family
- Primrose Students and Graduates Put “Giving Without Expectation” into Action
- 4 Ways to Raise a Good Friend
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