In early childhood education centers we rightly stress the importance of early literacy, learning one’s ABCs, exercises for physical development, and promoting other essential experiences that assist children in meeting their developmental milestones, but we often neglect a crucial part of child development: teaching generosity.
Generosity can be defined as, “the act of giving to others freely.” Generosity is both a skill and a habit that once learned and implemented can be a powerful antidote to the negativity we all experience on a daily basis. There is research that promotes the notion that we are biologically hardwired in our brains to have the inclination to act generously, but as early childhood educators we are not doing an effective enough job unleashing that inclination to ensure that every child’s generosity is making the lives of others around them better.
How can we encourage generosity in children?
- Involve children: When they turn an appropriate age, involve them in charitable action. Whether it be volunteering with them, or bringing them along with you as you do something generous with your time or resources.
- Encourage empathetic questioning: At ages 3 and 4 a child’s ability to perceive the feelings of others are enhanced, which enhances one’s ability to be empathetic. Encourage this development by asking questions to spur empathy. Examples are included below.
- How do you think your actions affect your friends? Why do you think your friend is sad? What could you do to help make your friend happy?
- Give children an emotion vocabulary: Teaching children to identify and label emotions is linked to showing greater concern for others. Next time your reading a book to a child, ask questions about how the characters are feeling, or how the book makes them feel. One study shows that toddlers whose mothers have encouraged emotional labeling are more likely to show concern for others in distress.
- Model generosity: Children learn by imitating and observing. If the adults playing a prominent role in their life are acting generous and going out of their way to help and give to others, then children will be inclined to follow suit by modeling that behavior themselves.
- Discuss often the importance of generosity: Children need to be informed that generosity isn’t just a few actions they partake in every couple of weeks, it is a way of living. Generosity when converted into a lifestyle becomes a part of one’s daily routine way of seeing the world.
What are the positive effects of generosity?
- Better Health: Children are inundated with presentations, lessons, and discussions about the importance of a nutritious diet, the need for daily exercise, and adequate sleep, but the current research conveys that “giving” might be just as much a boost to one’s health.
- A better world: When children are taught to be generous, they grow up to exemplify generosity. Who doesn’t want to live in a world in which the vast majority of people are willing to be generous with their time and resources?
- Increased happiness: A lifestyle of sustained generosity has been linked to increased happiness in multiple studies.
- Enhanced connectivity with others: Individuals who make generosity a priority report feeling more connected to the people around them.
- It is contagious: Generosity is socially contagious, meaning that when another individual witnesses or hears about you completing an act of generosity, they are more likely to engage in one themselves.