The Tuesday following Thanksgiving has been known as “GivingTuesday” for the past decade and is a day dedicated to encouraging generosity as an expression of “mutuality, solidarity and reciprocity” among humankind.
Generosity is very much a part of our Montessori classrooms, where kindness and respect are part of the “grace and courtesy” lessons and are modeled by the teachers and older students. In its beginning stages, generosity starts by noticing others and offering help. “May I help you with that?” The multi-age classrooms are a beautiful picture of giving and taking, as young children learn from their peers, and then, in turn, become the leaders in the classroom. Kindness, respect and empathy (essential traits that lead to generosity) are core values of the Montessori program.
While research has shown that generosity is a trait present even in young children, it needs nurturing to fully develop. We all want our children to one day be generous, empathetic, and respectful adults! Why? First, our own sense of belonging and self worth are strengthened when we make meaningful, valuable contributions to our family and community. “The primary need of every child is to feel a sense of belonging and significance.” (Flora McCormick).
We also know that generosity strengthens relationships, makes friends, and makes us feel better about ourselves. Generosity is often called “giving back” as an acknowledgement that we have been the recipient of others’ generosity, and so we now “pay it forward”. It leads to greater happiness and wellbeing (source), things we all want for our children!
The question is, how can we foster generosity in our children?
They will imitate us in any case. Let us treat them, therefore, with all the kindness which we would wish to help develop in them.
Like most things, generosity is best “caught” rather than “taught”!
- Model empathy. “Although we are inherently altruistic, we are also generous when we feel empathy toward one another. It is empathy that causes us to open up our wallets and give generously to help strangers.” (Source.) Don’t disconnect the heart from giving! Notice and talk about your child’s emotions, and those of your family and even strangers. “She looks sad, sitting alone on the swings. Do you think she needs a friend?”
- Model respect. Talk about the needs of your child, your family and others with great respect and avoid stereotyping. Model to your child “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” and remember that prejudice inhibits generosity. (Source)
- Model gratitude. “Gratitude seems to prepare the brain for generosity…researchers have observed that grateful people give more.” (Source.) Take time every day to acknowledge something or someone you are thankful for and talk about it with your child.
- Notice and talk about the needs of others and your response. Explain to your child why you give and how you give. Talk about times when others have helped you and tell stories about times you have helped others. What happened? How did they/you feel?
- Make sure your child observes your generosity in action. You want them to see you giving back!
- Be enthusiastic and positive when you have an opportunity to give. Smile! Show joy and enthusiasm that you have an opportunity to contribute. Avoid making assumptions about others’ needs.
Notice and affirm when you see your child being generous or caring for others but be careful not to steal the joy of giving by offering them extrinsic rewards (praise, gifts, prizes, etc.).
Instead, you can say, “I noticed how happy she was when you shared your toy with her.” “Did you see how happy Daddy was when you gave him his gift?”
You can also encourage your child to reflect on how they feel when others are generous with them. “How did it make you feel when she gave you a present?”
Plan for generosity. Purchase a piggy bank for your child that has three divisions: spending, saving and giving. When your child receives money, they can allocate a specific amount for giving (and saving), then place the rest in the “spending” compartment. This helps your child plan to be generous!
Involve your child in choosing ways to volunteer or give back. Animal shelters, hospitals, food shelves, shelters, CAP agency, and other local charities are great places to start. If your child cannot volunteer with you, they can still be part of a project: collecting donations, packing the donations, raising awareness by inviting family and friends to a project. Did you know you can donate cookies to construction volunteers at Habitat for Humanity and that your entire family can ring bells for Salvation Army? What about bringing a simple craft project or coloring pages to a local nursing home, and visiting with residents, or perhaps sharing some songs with them?
Be creative. Think of new ways to be generous! Your child’s birthday can be an occasion to collect donations for a charity. Ask your child to pick one or two gifts to keep and donate the rest to charity. Or, you can ask attendees to make a donation in lieu of a gift, and have your child choose which charity donations will go towards.
Generosity involves sacrifice. As a family, come up with creative ways to set aside funds for a donation. For example, “What do you think if we decide to not buy take out this week, and instead, we use that money to buy a few toys for the shelter?”
Spend time with people who are different than you. This helps foster both respect and empathy.
- Demonstrate, and when possible, involve your child in intentional and random acts of kindness. Make a meal for someone who is sick, open doors for others, allow others to ahead of you in line, buy coffee for the person in line ahead of you, leave a generous tip, say a kind and affirming word to a stranger, etc.
Life’s persistent and most urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
Martin Luther King Jr.