Teaching Children to Give Back

Young boy helping his mother to do the dishes

Teaching Children to Give Back

As parents know, the act of giving to others can be just as fulfilling as being on the receiving end of a thoughtful gesture. Indeed, nothing compares to the happiness felt by giving unconditional love to your children. But the power of giving extends past generations and centuries. The ancient Greek author, Aesop, knew the personal reward that comes from acts of kindness when he wrote, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Being thoughtful and giving back makes us feel good for contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Similarly for children, learning to give to others at a young age helps them develop a sense of empathy and citizenship. But when the suggestion to share toys can result in a meltdown, how do we go about instilling these values in our little ones?

Of course, most parents want their children to be compassionate and generous. Not only are these wonderful traits for any person to have, but research indicates that young children who have high prosocial skills (behaviors meant to benefit another) are also among the most cognitively ready for school. Oh, how we become discouraged when we see our 2-year-old fiercely grabbing another child’s toy saying, “Mine! Mine!” But our hearts warm right up again when we see them giving a hug to a crying friend. Promoting more of these caring, giving behaviors in our children can be less of a challenge than it seems.

When Harvard anthropologists John and Beatrice Whiting studied the altruistic practices of children in six world cultures, they found interesting differences. Children in some cultures were more helpful to their peers, while children in other cultures were more egocentric and tended to seek help and attention for themselves. (Can you guess which country in the study had the most self-centered children?) The differentiating factor was surprisingly simple: the children that were more helpful and giving were assigned more responsibilities in their home that contributed to the well-being of the family. The more that children had to tend to the family’s animals, take care of younger siblings and do household chores, the more altruistic they were in other situations.

Children learn the importance and fulfillment of giving back by frequently performing thoughtful actions for those around them. The following tips will help encourage your young ones to be caring and giving, all the while preparing them for success in school and in life:

  1. Model kindness to your child and others. Let your child see you offering to help a neighbor or co-worker and show him the happiness you feel by helping others.
  2. Remind your child how helping benefits others. ‘Who wants to be my special helper today and help carry laundry to the washer? We won’t have clean clothes without you!’ Or, ‘The dog looks hungry. I bet he’d really appreciate it if you gave him his food and water.’
  3. Acknowledge helpful behavior. ‘Thank you for helping me carry the dishes to the kitchen without being asked. That saved me a lot of steps.’
  4. Help young children learn the joy of giving. If another child doesn’t have a toy to play with, suggest that your child gives her one of his toys so they can both have something fun to play with. 
  5. Expect children to give without expecting something in return. Avoid material rewards for helping and giving behaviors. Treats for good deeds may seem to work in the short term, but over time children may become less generous when the rewards stop.  

Hopefully, the lessons you are teaching at home are also mirrored in your child’s classroom experiences. For example, at Primrose, we integrate character development education throughout our Balanced Learning® curriculum. This month, our Caring and Giving Food Drive is in full force. Throughout the country, students are performing household chores to provide food items for families in need. The students combine (and learn to count) their earnings, create a detailed shopping list and visit the grocery store to purchase items. This annual event helps students understand the value of generosity while creating a hands-on approach to math, nutrition and planning skills.

Giving is contagious – so make sure you’re exposing your child to all of the joy and fulfillment that generosity provides!

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