Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.
Being part of a family is one of the first settings in which we — and our children — learn about generosity. When my second child was born, my mother came into town to help take care of my two-year-old son. She would take him out for little adventures and bring him back to me in the afternoon. Every day, he would come home with something for me — a little shell, a stone, half a cookie… his gifts were so sweet to experience at a time when I wished I had more energy to give to him.
Here are three ways we can help support this kind of generosity in young children:
- Model generosity. Children learn through imitation. We can show them the value of generosity through everyday encounters, especially in our interpersonal interactions with them and with others. Children can be our inspiration to be more generous — both in our actions and in our simple expressions of gratitude. It is an act of courage in modern society to find truth in the saying, “The world is good.” This belief enables our children to feel a sense of trust, joy, and abundance.
- Give age-appropriate chores. Chores are an opportunity for children to share in the work and responsibility of family life. They give our children an opportunity to help not only themselves, but also contribute to meeting the needs of others. Often children want to help. Helping gives them a sense of belonging and a feeling of competency. It is wonderful to find meaningful work for children to participate in at home.
- Allow time for generosity to unfold. Of course, the little boy who so generously gave me half his cookie at times also struggled to share me with his new baby brother or to share toys with another young friend. Sharing is not an easy task for young children. It is tempting in these moments to encourage our children to share through praise, rewards, and sayings, such as, “Sharing is caring.” The reality is that it takes time for children to authentically learn how to share. As Janet Lansbury said, “Children share when they begin to feel empathy for others, empathy modeled through a parent’s patience and trust in them.”
One evening soon after the birth of my third child, I was nursing her as I said goodnight to my boys at bedtime. My middle child asked me to hold him, so I made room on my lap for him. Then my oldest child wanted to be held, too, so I made a little more room. I wanted to prove there was enough of me for all three of my children. My middle child wiggled and squirmed. The baby started to cry because she was getting squished. The oldest one fell back on the bed, frustrated and upset. I felt defeated. Just a moment passed and my oldest son looked at my middle child and asked, “Do you want me to hold you?” My middle son laid down on the bed and the boys held onto each other as my husband and I sang our goodnight song. In that moment, I felt the generosity that is available to us in a family. To be generous doesn’t mean giving everything all the time — but giving what you can and trusting that there will be enough.