Fostering Generosity

December 16, 2022, Lynne Brown

A small box, wrapped in brown paper with a twine ribbon and red and white star ornament sits on a woven placemat.Tis the season of giving. First, we celebrated by giving thanks and now we move on to the season of giving gifts. 

But sometimes it seems our kids are more focused on what they will be getting than the spirit of giving. How do we foster generosity in our children, especially if they are at a developmental stage where being self-centered is completely appropriate? 

We all want to raise our kids to be kind and generous people. They came to us with inherent talents and abilities, interests, and aptitudes. Our greatest hope is that they will use their gifts to contribute to making the world a better place when they reach adulthood.

But a toddler is still figuring out that they are an individual, separate from their caregivers. And part of that is identifying what is theirs and what is not. They are naturally reluctant to give away what is theirs. Being willing and able to share is a skill that comes later when children have a firmly established sense of self and are ready to build relationships with peers.

Though kids may not be naturally inclined to be generous, we can help them develop a generous spirit. Here are a few ways to foster generosity in your kids, no matter their age or inclinations:

Model generosity

Kids watch everything we do and when we are generous they will see it. Talk about it with them when they see you being generous. Let them know how it makes you feel when you are being generous. Generosity is not just about giving money or things. We can be generous with our time as well. A few extra minutes together when it’s time to start dinner is generosity. 

Choose tangible ways to be generous

A generous gift will have more meaning if they can see where it is going and how it is helping. A monetary gift to a far-away charity is an abstraction that is difficult for some children. They will be more likely to understand the benefits of generosity if you make it tangible, such as giving cat food you purchased together at the grocery store to the local animal shelter, where they can see the cats who will be fed thanks to your generosity. 

Making small, tangible acts of generosity a regular part of your routine can establish generosity as an important part of your family culture and help build generous spirits in your children.

Practice hospitality

Inviting people over is an act of generosity. Having other children in your home gives your children the opportunity to practice sharing their space and be generous with their things.

Talk about generosity

Look for opportunities to notice other people being generous. Point these out to your kids to help them become more aware of the generosity all around them. When you see them or their friends being generous, comment on it. Invite them to share how it felt to be generous. 

It’s better to notice when they are generous than force them to be generous. Giving attention to the desired behavior has a way of encouraging more of it.

Generosity is a skill that can be taught. By creating opportunities to give and be generous, our children can practice and develop that skill. When we talk about how it feels to help others with our giving, we are encouraging kindness and compassion in our children. 

Regularly finding ways to be generous – with each other and with others outside the family – is the best way to foster generosity in our kids.