This time of year provides the perfect opportunity to remind children of the joy they bring to your life and how fortunate your family is. The best way for you to teach them the values of generosity, compassion, and gratitude is to show them how important you believe it is to give to others. These traits provide a foundation for their development as happy, confident, well-rounded individuals.
From the time they are born, children form rules about how the world works through their observations, play, and interactions with parents, family members, and teachers. They learn the importance of caring for others as a result of the care they receive. When they see significant adults in their lives behaving in a caring, respectful manner towards others, they draw the conclusion that this is how they should behave. Warm, caring, honest relationships help children build a sense of trust and safety which enables them to expand their worldview beyond themselves.
It’s not unusual for older infants and toddlers to show concern when they hear another child crying. Over time, they gain a growing awareness that other people have feelings and wishes and this recognition eventually enables them to take another’s perspective. This emerging ability needs to be nurtured by parents and teachers by discussing their own feelings, giving children words to express their feelings, and asking children to imagine how others feel. Just listening to children as they play can give us insight into where they are in the process, and how we can support their understanding of how to be a generous, caring friend.
Here are a few ways to encourage generosity during the holidays and year-round!
Model compassion at home and in your community. You are your child’s first and most influential teacher. How you treat others is the example your child will follow most often. Help your child understand why it’s important to treat others in a caring, compassionate way and make sure this is the expectation you set.
Give to others this season and throughout the year. Although you may choose to participate in one or two “big” charity events with your family, make an effort to practice generosity throughout the year in smaller ways. “Smaller” activities can include all family members going through their closets and toy boxes. Decide what you don’t need and if these items are in good enough condition for someone else to use. Many homeless shelters need all kinds of goods and would also appreciate having clothes, books, and toys for those they serve. As a family, you can deliver them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army donation center. Your child will gain the understanding that he or she is a member of a generous family that cares about others. This becomes part of your child’s self-identity which has far reaching implications for his or her development as a compassionate person.
Read stories about compassion and generosity. Reading books to children is one of the very best ways for them to gain insight into the feelings and motives of others and to learn that people often have different points of view. The following are good examples of books that you can read to your child that will help start a conversation about what it means to be caring and generous:
- I Love You Through and Through, written by Bernadette Rossetti Shustakand and illustrated by Caroline Jay Church
- A Chair for My Mother written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams
- Yoko written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
- Feast for Ten by Cathryn Falwell
- A Bargain for Frances, written by Lillian Hoban and illustrated by Russell Hoban
If you’re looking for more ways to help your children develop empathy, compassion and generosity, here’s a list of resources for encouraging positive character.