Whoever said, “it’s better to give than to receive” never tried telling a tantrum-throwing three-year-old that sharing her chocolate croissant with a friend is a good thing. But a new study shows that there’s biological connection between generosity and happiness.
For children, that link is an especially important one. Kids who volunteer do better in school and are less likely to engage in negative behaviors, according to research from The Corporation for National and Community Service — a federal agency that promotes acts of citizenship and responsibility. It also found that people who regularly lend a hand tend to be healthier and that these wellness benefits increase if they learn to be charitable earlier in their life.
The good news is that generosity and caring can be cultivated. Here are some ideas for teaching the joy of giving to your children.
Look for ways to help your kids experience the joy of giving year-round.
BE A STRONG ROLE MODEL
In order for children to understand why giving is good, you have to talk about it. One study found that young children whose parents talk with them about charitable giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than kids whose parents don’t discuss giving. Tell your kids about the organizations and people you support and the impact your giving has on others.
PRAISE BEHAVIOR YOU WANT REPEATED
You can reinforce giving by pointing out when your child is being generous. (“That was kind of you to share your snack with Maddy.”) And draw attention to the generosity of others. (“The snow is piling up at Miss Susan’s house. Isn’t it nice that Daddy is helping to clear her walkway, so she can get out?”)
INVOLVE YOUR KIDS
It’s not enough to tell your kids that giving is important. For giving to take root in their lives, they also have to experience it themselves, even in small ways. (“It’s extra hot today. What if we offer the postman a bottle of cold water when he delivers our mail?”) And as your kids get older, help them find more opportunities to give.
HELP YOUR CHILD SET ASIDE MONEY TO GIVE
Encourage your kids to give a portion of their allowance to charity. To make it easy, label either three small containers or three envelopes with “save,” “spend” and “give,” and help them decide how much to put in each. Consider upping the ante with a matching program. (“For every dollar you put in your giving jar, I’ll add one more.”) Then, when your child has set aside a certain amount, let him or her decide how to donate that money.
PLAY TO YOUR CHILD’S INTERESTS
Help your kids become good citizens by connecting your child’s interest and talents to the needs of your own community. Does your child love dogs? Put together a basket of doggie toys and take it to your local animal shelter. Have a child who’s passionate about sustainability? Volunteer together at your local community garden or participate in a trail clean-up at your county park.
MAKE IT A HABIT
Look for ways to help your kids experience the joy of giving year-round. Bake an extra batch of brownies for the elderly neighbor next door or let your child pick out one food item each time you go shopping and set it aside at home. When you have a bagful, take your child to the local food pantry to make his or her donation. The more experiences you provide your children to do good, the more likely they’ll grow to become charitable adults. Want more inspiration? Check out these websites to find volunteer opportunities near you: