Many parents and educators work hard to instill healthy behaviors in children from a very young age, all for their lifelong health and success. We teach children to be polite, responsible and intuitive.
What about teaching children how to be generous? And apart from obvious reasons why generosity is important, like “sharing is caring”, why would we want to teach this discipline and attitude to our children?
“Giving—and thoughtful, generous giving at that—may be more rewarding than receiving on numerous levels, from the neural, to the personal, to the social,” writes Maria Konnikova in Scientific American.
Here are three reasons why it’s important to teach children to live generously:
Giving is an opportunity to think outside of one’s self.
One of the best ways to distract children for the stressors of life is to enable them to share with others. Not only will a child’s generosity divert their attention from their own problems, but it will also train their brains and emotions to have a desire to give to others. "Volunteering moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self," says Stephen G. Post of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. "Many studies show that one of the best ways to deal with the hardships in life is not to just centre on yourself but to take the opportunity to engage in simple acts of kindness.” Children who are battling an illness, going through a difficult transition or suffer from depression could benefit from a day of focusing on others and being generous.
Giving sets children up for life long happiness.
Being stingy and selfish — and ashamed of those self-centered actions — is linked with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Conversely, being generous — with one’s time, money and resources — is linked with the endorphins dopamine which help block pain signals and oxytocin in the brain. Studies show that when people generously assist others, that they activate the part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway, which creates feelings of gratification. When children are encouraged at a young age to be generous with others their brains start to thrive off of and even crave these happy endorphins, thus causing them to be more generous and happy throughout their entire lives.
Studies have shown that when a person can empathize with the situation of another person, that they are more likely to act with generosity. This is evident when charitable donations and tons of volunteer time is given to those in need after natural disasters. Teaching children to understand another’s perspective will give them healthy motivations to help out. “Can you imagine how sad and scary it would be to lose your house and all of your possessions in a fire? Let’s go donate some new clothes and toys to the family to help them feel better and have the things they need.”
For these reasons and many others, it is evident that through giving, we enrich our own personal lives and perpetuate the goodness in the lives of others. As Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
What are some practical ways that you can encourage children to be generous? Volunteer as a family, donate part of an allowance to charity, give a lavish gift to someone in need — the possibilities are endless. Ask your children how they wish to give back to the world. You’ll probably be pleased with their generous response.