Nurturing the art of generosity

Over the years, children learn that generosity can help them make friends, win affection and generally feel better about themselves, but the path to open-handedness can be rocky. Like many good habits, generosity is first taught in the home.

Nurturing the art of generosity is key to the development of happy, healthy children of all ages. A wealth of research shows that generosity can have a number of benefits that extend beyond the initial feel-good factor of a good deed. From reducing stress to enhancing emotional intelligence, generosity helps children flourish, partly because it lets them take the focus off themselves and onto the rich tapestry of their surroundings. In a world where increasing self-entitlement causes an introspective world view, this can only be a good thing.

Benefits of teaching kids about generosity

Improves mental health

Generosity is a natural confidence-builder. It gives children a sense of purpose and achievement, and makes them feel better about themselves. Being generous allows kids to take the focus off themselves and spend less time examining themselves through a magnifying glass and listening to their inner critic.

Gives children a sense of purpose

Children want to make a difference, and when they are able to see the tangible benefits of their generosity in another person’s life they become a change-maker. Auckland Dad, Gavin McCulloch, says that he was touched by his son’s proposal to look after another boy through sponsorship. “The agreement between us was in order for him to do that, he had to do chores. Although I was sure he was going to balk at the suggestion, I wanted for Connor to really feel like a part of the process. I didn’t want him to disconnect from his generosity by not actually having to do anything for it. Months later, I am still blown away when I see him doing chores every week.”

Teaches kids the value of money

Paradoxically, teaching children about generosity also teaches them the value of money and helps kids develop a healthy attitude towards it. By understanding that money isn’t a given and that many people don’t have it, children can start appreciating money for what it is, rather than just as something mummy gets out of a machine with a piece of plastic.

Expands their worldview

Living in New Zealand means that our children are already better off than 90% of the world we live in. Living in this small slice of heaven means they’re often not exposed to absolute poverty and as such can have a limited understanding of what the world outside their doorstep actually looks like. The key here is not just to educate children about poverty and leave it at that; the point is to teach kids that they can be the solution by being generous. This knowledge can empower children to create change.

Tips for implementing generosity

Parents might feel that generosity is something that children learn on their own or otherwise just pick up from the behaviour of the big people in their lives, but generosity is a skill that often needs to be taught. There are so many ways you can teach children generosity, both locally and globally. Here are some tips to get you started.

Pocket money jars: savings, spending, giving

Give your children three jars: a jar for spending, a jar for saving and jar for giving. This helps them develop a healthy understanding of the value of money and also how to manage it. Turn the jar opening into a special family ritual when you tally up what has been collected for charity and discuss how they want to give it away. Let your kids make the decision on where and how it is to be donated.

Old clothes and toys donated

This is perhaps the trickiest tip to implement. Kids can be fiercely territorial about their toys, even the ones they no longer play with, but getting a child to part with an old toy is a sure sign that they are taking this generosity thing seriously. Be sure to shower your child with plenty of praise for every small step taken in the right direction.

“I am thankful for …”

Prayer can be extremely healing and comforting for children, but even in non-religious households, encouraging children to say what they’re thankful for will have favourable consequences. Doing this reminds children that they do have a lot to be grateful for, and highlighting what they do have leaves less time to focus on what they don’t. Practising being grateful is a wonderful habit to get your children into.

Angel food: love you can eat

The premise of angel food is really simple: with your child, bake cookies for a sick friend or loved one. This is a great way to show kids that being generous doesn’t necessarily have to mean giving away money or personal belongings; being generous with your time is just as important. From the reactions of their friends and loved ones, kids will quickly learn how precious this form of giving is.

Develop a relationship with somebody worse off

Poverty and hardship become much more real when you are face-to-face with it, so encourage your family to develop a relationship with someone worse off than you. This could involve being generous with your time as well as money. You could encourage your child to help out at local charities’ events or collect money on behalf of charities. Sponsoring a child is another way to be generous. By developing a relationship with a disadvantaged child overseas, poverty stops being an abstract idea and puts it into a language that young children understand. Through writing and receiving letters with other children, kids learn what life in other parts of the world is like and just how much they have to be grateful for.

Clever thinking around Christmas gifts

When buying Christmas gifts, consider looking at buying a present on behalf of your child (or someone else) which benefits someone in a developing country. Many charities are providing gift solutions along these lines. For example, the Gift for Life catalogue ( from TEAR Fund. Gift for Life has plenty of quirky gift ideas which go to a person in the developing world who needs it more. Together with your child, pick out a goat, a cow or a chicken and explain how this gift will benefit a recipient in
a developing country.

Lead by example

As simple as it sounds, it’s crucial that children actually see us being generous! Generosity is a way of life and the best way to ensure that our wee ones don’t grow up to resemble Veruca Salt or Augustus Gloop is to lead by example.


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