Nurturing Generosity in Your Child

As this season of gift giving is upon us, it causes me to think about all the ways that we can encourage our children to be generous: generosity in Spirit, generosity in compassion and love, as well as generosity in giving.  In The Pro-Child Way: Parenting with an Ex introduction I declare, “My children are so important to me.  I want them to grow up in a world seeing other’s needs, not wrapped up in their own needs.  I want them to experience joy, love, compassion, and wonder.”  I know many other parents share this wish for their own children. But children don’t learn these nurturing attributes by watching popular culture on TV, it happens through your conscious guidance.  Here are some simple steps that you can weave into your child’s life.

1. Your Child’s Teacher, Your Child’s Example.
You can’t ignore the importance of YOU setting an example for your children.  Generosity can be witnessed by your child when you let a frantic mom, who is holding a crying baby, ahead of you in the grocery line.  It is witnessed when you let another driver go first at the 4-way stop sign.  Your child sees generosity when you take the time to hold the door for someone who is still far off.  Your child sees generosity in action when you rake your elderly neighbor’s leaves.  By practicing generosity, you teach generosity.  Add a simple comment to your child that highlights the effect of your deed.  “Wow, I bet that baby will be glad to get out of the grocery store and back home to eat.  Thanks for waiting with me while they went first.”  The result of being generous with your (and your child’s) time is that a baby may find comfort.  Your child can relate to this!

2. Ask your child “Generosity” questions.
Oh, I do love my children’s bedtime routine which often includes “bedtime chats”.  But these conversations are also perfect for the dinner table or while driving to school.  Once established, the routine takes hold and you’ll be surprised when your child becomes the caretaker.  Even young children can quickly blossom in their answers and awareness if given your nurturing guidance.  When starting a new Generosity question, grow it through patience.  Allow your child days and weeks and months of practice.  The point is for your child to be mindful of the question as she goes through her day, in anticipation of “getting to” share it with you at day’s end.  Remember that this isn’t a one-way practice: your child will grow from hearing your responses too!  Here are some questions to get you started:

- “Tell me something nice that you saw someone do for someone else today.”  If your child wants to tell you something nice that she did, acknowledge that she wants to tell you, but ask her to save it till later.  Remember to ask later!
- “Tell me one thing that you were thankful for today.”  Keep it to one thing!  It requires more careful thought as your child examines her day.
- “Tell me one gift that you would like to give to someone.”  Although I fully expect my 1st grader to wish for a toy for her “best friends forever” cousin, through my guidance and through the days, I’ll use examples as ways to expand her answers to gifts for strangers that we come across that day to people around the world.  In my own home, I’m excited to see this question progress as December marches on.
- “Who did you see today, that you haven’t seen in awhile, that you were glad you saw?”  My 1st grader reminded me that even she can miss “old” friends: pre-school classmates, old teachers, her parent’s friends.  We use this Generosity question after particularly social days.

3. Encourage a Generosity party
While the theme of these parties can vary, the purpose is the same: for your child to enjoy being generous with others.  No need to go overboard with special food, decorations, or favors – this party creates its own fun, just because it is.  Have your child invite friends over for a party anchored on an act of generosity.  2 or 3 friends are sufficient for a younger child, after school or on a half-day is perfect.  Encourage your child to “be in charge” and then let it happen.  No need to micromanage fun.  The point isn’t the outcome, but in the spirit of fun at coming together around a cause.  When my young daughter had her “earth day party” last month, she didn’t mind the nearly-empty trash collection bags from walking our clean neighborhood nor did she feel it was a failure that more leaves got scattered then raked in the backyard “clean-up” portion.  She and her friends had a blast.  The point is to take an idea, gather friends, and have fun.  Doing this when she is 6 may prompt her to do it at 7, 8, 9 and beyond.  I’m sure as each year passes, the outcomes will grow with her enthusiasm.  Here are some Generosity party ideas:

- Food bank party, where friends bring canned goods.  I know my younger child would want to decorate the cans with ribbons and bows!  It’s always nice to have the children hand deliver the items, making it less abstract.
- Animal shelter party, where friends bring pet toys and food.  Warning, if you take the children to the shelter, be sure to set the ground rules that no pets come home!
- Earth day party, this idea isn’t restricted to the calendar date.  My daughter suggested picking up trash, planting seeds, and raking leaves.  The time of year suggested that planting seeds wasn’t going to be very “fruitful” – so she substituted jumping into leaves.  Keep in mind that it is neither fun nor practical for young ones to clean-up busy streets or the county landfill! 

4. The Twenty Dollar Challenge
Here is something relating to money that parents can easily do with their child.  Give your child $20.  (The generosity starts with you.)  But, give it with the stipulation that your child passes it on in some way.  Don’t expect an immediate generosity filled answer!  Sometimes, Spirit takes a while to show the way.  Over the course of time, watch as your child turns from wanting something for herself to entertaining ideas for others.  Discuss possibilities, encouraging your child to see opportunities.  The recipient isn’t as important as the manner in which it is given.  Upon deciding that her twenty dollars be used to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste for homeless children (Spirit led her into a conversation about this need), my 6 year old loved selecting and paying for her items at the self-check out, and then topping off her gifts with bows. It was truly a testament that joy was included in her generosity!  To get you started, here are some other ideas:
- Buying a “flock of geese” at HeiferInternational.org
- Buying yarn and donating it to a retirement home, perhaps to later see the knitted finished products
- Given to someone in need
- Asking the guidance counselor or church if a youngster has a particular need
- Going to the mall and randomly treating strangers to hot pretzels

Teaching our children generosity is as important as teaching our children to look both ways when crossing the street.  Whether through small conversations or larger displays, there are opportunities at every age to start a generosity practice.  What is the reward to your child?  The smile that they receive and the quiet knowing that they belong to the community of the world.

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Relates to Divorced Situation #13: Holiday Gift Giving, The Pro-Child Way: Parenting with an Ex to be released January 2010.  www.TheProChildWay.com  Ellen Kellner, all rights reserved.

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