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Teaching Children about Giving

Teaching Children about Giving
Posted on November 22, 2023 by CHS

In a world where compassion and empathy are so important, finding ways to involve your child in acts of giving can help them become more compassionate and empathetic. Research has found that nurturing charitable values in children can boost their self-esteem and self-confidence, provide a greater sense of purpose in helping their community, and significantly impact their mental health and happiness.  This blog explores practical science-based strategies for both parents and caregivers to create a foundation for a kinder, more benevolent future.

The Science Behind Charity and Giving

Research in developmental psychology and education has provided valuable insights into how children develop a sense of empathy, generosity, and a willingness to help others. Psychologists have shown that toddlers as young as 14 months old have a propensity to help and cooperate. Early childhood is a critical period for nurturing and reinforcing empathy, which is the cornerstone of charitable behavior.

 

Moreover, modern neuroscience has revealed that acts of giving activate the brain's reward centers, releasing feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Patty O’Grady, a neuroscience expert in emotional learning and positive psychology in the classroom, explains that experiencing kindness can change the brain. Children learn about empathy, kindness, helpfulness, sharing, and attending to someone else’s needs by “feeling it so they can reproduce it.” This may be why children often experience joy when they engage in acts of giving. While starting early is helpful, being mindful of your child’s developmental stage is also important. These are advanced social and emotional skills for a young child. On average, those skills begin to develop around the age of three and a half.

 

Alternatively, research has revealed that children are less likely to share if they are forced or pressured into giving. According to scientists, one possible reason is that children see themselves as less altruistic or caring when they are forced to share instead of sharing of their own free will. It’s important that young children and adolescents experience opportunities to practice giving, helping, and sharing when it is their own idea. This encourages positive feelings about sharing and giving.

Information for Child Care Providers and Early Educators

Child care providers and early educators play a pivotal role in shaping a child's character and values. Sharing is a complex skill that does not happen within a few days. It develops over time with patience and consistent support from parents, child care providers, and early educators. Below are a few strategies for building these skills:


Lead by Example: Model charitable behavior by demonstrating kindness, empathy, and generosity in your interactions with others. Albert Bandura's social learning theory emphasizes that children learn by observing and imitating others, underlining the importance of modeling charitable behavior and acts of kindness for children.

Storytelling and Discussion: Incorporate stories and discussions about charity and giving into your curriculum to help children understand the concept and encourage questions. Proud to be Primary offers five (5) popular children’s books with great empathy-building activities for Kindergarten through second grade.

Classroom Projects: Engage children in hands-on charitable activities, such as collecting items for donation or creating artwork to raise funds for a cause. These projects promote teamwork and giving. In addition to teaching students about giving during the holidays, celebrating World Give Day and World Kindness Day offers another chance for youth to practice kindness, empathy, and generosity.

Empathy-Building Activities: Plan activities that encourage children to recognize and express their emotions and empathize with the feelings of others, fostering a sense of understanding and compassion. You can find more ideas in the article Seven Kindness Activities for Elementary Students, Preschoolers, and Middle Schoolers from Positive Psychology and 8x. Developing Empathy to Build Warm, Inclusive Classrooms by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

Positive Reinforcement: Recognize and celebrate acts of kindness and giving within the classroom to reinforce these behaviors. Researchers have looked at the effects of praise and have found it to be effective in motivating helpfulness, particularly with younger children. When offering children over the age of five praise, be sincere and specific. Focus on achievements that require hard work, or on things that are within their control.

Information for Parents

Parents are a child's first teachers and can reinforce the lessons learned in an early learning program. Below are a few strategies that can be used at home:

Age-Appropriate Discussions: Have age-appropriate conversations about charity and giving, explaining the reasons behind these actions, and encouraging questions. Surprisingly, talking to children about giving has been found to be more effective than role modeling the behavior, according to the Women Give 2013 research study at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Intentionally speaking with your children about your own charitable and empathetic actions, such as volunteering, donating, and generosity (through kindness, gestures, and/or interactions with others) is key to developing their generosity.

Family Involvement: Involve your child in family acts of giving, such as volunteering together or participating in charity events, reinforcing the importance of giving back to the community. Researchers have found that giving leads to greater happiness for both adults and children, especially when they can see the impact of their giving. For children too young to understand financial giving, participating in charitable acts like toy drives, visits to a nursing home, or beach cleanups where they can see the immediate results of their efforts is a good idea.

Hands-On Giving: The holidays offer a multitude of giving opportunities to allow your child to contribute to charitable efforts in a way that is meaningful to them. Whether they select items to donate or create homemade gifts for others, it’s a good time to introduce your values about generosity. Letting your child choose how to give and to whom they give goes a long way toward helping them evolve into adults that practice giving.

Gratitude Practice: Parents can encourage their child’s natural empathic inclinations by making sure they are aware of their own needs, their family members’ needs, and the needs of the broader community. Cultivate a sense of gratitude in your child by encouraging them to express thanks for their health, what they have, and by helping them appreciate the value of giving to those in need. Talk with them about others, the many ways that they can make a balanced impact, and stay connected with their community.


Encourage Sharing: Promote sharing with siblings and peers, encouraging your child to lend a hand, their old toys, or a drawing of theirs in a spirit of generosity. Jill Gordon, director of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana (YPII), recommends helping your child to see giving as a part of who they are and an opportunity to use their talents and gifts to help those in need and enhance their community rather than an activity of donating or volunteering. If your child is passionate about art, the environment, or sports, finding a way to contribute those abilities or use those talents to benefit others boosts their social and emotional development.

Collaboration Between Parents and Child Care Providers

Effective collaboration between parents and educators can maximize the impact of giving, such as:

Open Communication: Maintain open lines of communication to ensure that what is taught at school or in child care is reinforced at home, and vice versa. Share ideas and experiences to support a consistent message.

Parent-Teacher Meetings: Regular meetings between parents and child care providers can provide a platform to discuss charitable initiatives, strategies, and the progress of individual children.

Community Involvement: Both parents and educators can work together to involve children in local charity events or community service projects, fostering a sense of belonging to a larger, giving community.

Conclusion

Teaching children about empathy and giving is a joint effort, with both child care providers and parents playing a vital role. By embracing these strategies and working collaboratively, we can nurture young children to develop with compassion, kindness, and a lifelong commitment to making the world a better place through philanthropic acts and giving.

 

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