How to teach generosity

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Happy presents! Uh, we mean, Holidays! Let’s be real: gifts are a huge part of what makes this season so magical for children and that’s just not going to go away. So, how do we teach a child about giving gifts and not just getting them? How do we teach generosity and not just consumption? Gratitude, not just privilege? These are clearly important lessons for kids to learn, as they will form the foundation of how they view and relate to the world, possessions, and privilege. And this holiday season is a great time to build that emotional infrastructure.

It is perfectly normal for a child to be self-centered. It’s just one of those things they have to grow through. However, we can and should teach them that it’s not OK to be selfish. Your child is discovering our world bit by bit and they think that everything they see is theirs. Don’t you know it? And to be frank, there’s nothing wrong with that - it’s totally innocent. They don’t know the idea of ownership or greed, they just expect that the world is built around them. And it’s kind of true, isn’t it? As parents, we create our life around them - at least for 18 years. But they need to learn little by little that there are other people with different needs, means, and capabilities. This lesson has to be taught gently. Don’t make them feel bad about their limited understanding.

In our daycare classroom, when older children see younger children not follow the rules in the classroom, we say “They are just learning.” And so the older children feel tenderness and understanding for their younger friends who are still developing And in fact, that is a great mindset when we raise our children and expand their understanding. They are just learning.

For children to learn generosity and gratitude, they need to see it first hand, not talked about in concepts or spoken of in harsh tones when you get flustered and yell “You have to learn to share!” Here are a few ways we can showcase and invite them to participate in altruism.

  • As you wrap presents for others, help them put the ribbon on or let them choose the wrapping paper and relate it to the person you are giving it to like, “We got Auntie Gwen a red sweater because she likes the color red” or “We got little Bobby a teddy bear because he needs to hug something when he goes to sleep to comfort him.”

  • Have them help pick out a gift for a parent. Make a list of what they need - then they will stop and think of what that parent uses every day: socks, a hair clip, a stress ball. Make it something small that you can easily pick up from the store and then help wrap it. This way, they lived through the process of giving a gift. It didn’t meaninglessly appear in an Amazon box.

So how did this whole process help their development?

  • Cognitive - they worked to remember what the person uses

  • Sensory - they helped wrap the gift

  • Emotional - they felt the excitement of wrapping the gift as a surprise and the joy of seeing the recipient’s face

  • Physical - they walked to the store and touched the gift

There you have it. The errand of shopping for gifts has become a teachable moment. Something that will stay with your child for the rest of their lives. The thing is, all this contemplation you’ve taught them goes both ways. Once they realize how much goes into giving a gift, they’ll start to appreciate the ones they’re given much more. And mind you, this doesn’t have to be a seasonal lesson. Gifts are given all year for different occasions, so generosity is something you can revisit again and again. Because learning and growth are cumulative informing the person that your child will become. Congratulations on giving your child this most important gift of all!

Further reading:

Teaching Children To Give

Giving: The Best Gift Of All

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