Whenever Louisa (age eight) and her little sister Jenna are each offered something special, Louisa immediately makes a judgment about which item is most desirable, and lobbies to get that one for herself. She wants the biggest cookie, the purple bathrobe, and the window seat.
Her parents were getting worried about Louisa growing up selfish. But for her birthday, she chose to have all of her friends give money to the World Wildlife Fund for polar bears instead of giving her gifts. Now they are confused.
What is Generosity?
Generosity is freely sharing what we have with others. It is being willing to offer money, help or time when it is needed. To be generous means giving something that is valuable to you without expectation of reward or return. Sometimes generosity requires pushing past a feeling of reluctance because we all instinctively want to keep good things for ourselves. That is normal. Even so, we can structure our lives in ways that make generosity more spontaneous and fun.
When we intentionally “live below our means” and avoid over-commitment, we cultivate a sense of bounty or surplus that makes us want to share. Then we can reap the pleasure of knowing we have made someone else’s life a little happier.
How generosity develops.
As social animals, all of us come into the world primed to defend our near term self-interests but also primed to participate in a community in of sharing. If you watch toddlers at play, you will see both kinds of behavior, sometimes in a rather confusing collage because they are experimenting with rather confusing impulses.
Our challenge as parents is to accept that collage and then nudge our children toward the qualities that will make them good family members, good workmates and good citizens, and generosity is a quality prized in all three.
Five Quotes to Contemplate, Post and Discuss.
(To print a quote as a small poster, click on the quote, which will take you to the Wisdom Commons, then click the print button after the quote.)
Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege.
–John D. Rockefeller
The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.
– Walt Whitman
Bringing it home to your kids
1. Don’t measure your child by sibling relationships; there’s simply too much at stake for many kids to be at their best there. Do insist on fairness and let them know how much you appreciate their acts of generosity in the family.
2. Give words to the internal tug-of-war they feel at times between knowing they should consider others but wanting to hog. We all feel it. Let them know they are normal, and that they can choose generosity sometimes even when they feel conflicted. Our feelings inform us; they don’t control us.
3. Help your child be generous to someone who is close to home, whether this means gathering dandelion leaves for a caged guinea pig or making cookies for an elderly neighbor. Doing it together is the best way to make it fun.
4. Talk about your charitable giving – both the what-and-why of it and how you weigh choices against each other. As your kids get older, show them some of the more interesting stories and pictures you get back from organizations you support.
5. Consider matching or double-matching your child’s donations (including birthday presents they channel to charity). They will see real results faster, and they’ll love getting to “make you” spend your money on causes they care about.