How to Teach Children to be More Generous

Dr. Lisa Hinkelman, author of GIRLS WITHOUT LIMITS

Generosity is something that we all appreciate and recognize as being important, yet few parents ever make it a focal point of their parenting style. However, if you’re willing to prioritize generosity, you can actually set your kids up for even more success in life.

The Case for Raising Generous Children

Raising generous children is a good thing. We have an intuitive understanding of this. But do you know the specific benefits that stem from raising kids who hold their resources loosely, rather than tightly? According to a study from Fidelity Charitable, there are quite a few advantages.

For starters, people who grow up with strong family traditions centered around giving are more likely (46 percent) than those who did not (36 percent) to donate $5,000 or more of their own money annually to charities. 

Other benefits include: Individuals raised in philanthropic families volunteer more of their time than those who were not raised in settings where generosity was taught (89 percent to 73 percent), self-identify as being closer to their immediate family (81 percent to 71 percent), and rate themselves as “very happy” more often (48 to 33 percent).

“We’ve always known that strategic philanthropy benefits the charities donors support, but this study proves that the impact goes beyond that,” says Pamela Norley, president of Fidelity Charitable. “Giving makes people happier and is a significant contributor to a happier and healthy family too.”

It turns out that this isn’t the first study to analyze the connection between generosity and benefits like happiness. A separate 2017 academic research study found that happiness and generosity often exist in a self-feeding cycle. 

The finding: Generous behavior increases happiness, which motivates even greater generosity. Other studies suggest physical health benefits like lower blood pressure and greater releases of dopamine (the brain’s happiness hormone).

While generosity shouldn’t necessarily be self-motivated, it’s impossible to ignore the benefits that the benefactor receives. As a parent, here are several ways you can teach children to be more generous.

Encourage Empathy

If you want to teach someone how to be generous, you must first show them how to be empathetic toward others. Because without empathy, true generosity is basically impossible. 

VeryWell describes empathy as, “The ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling.”

Empathetic children are taught how to think about others. From a young age, you can teach this value to your children by helping them imagine how others feel. When your child does something to someone else – good or bad – help them understand what that other person must feel. (How do you think your sister felt when you pushed her on the playground? How do you think that older man must have felt when you sat down next to him and asked him about his day?)

Praise Generous Deeds

When your child does something generous with their time, money, words, or personal belongings, praise them. Let them know you noticed their generosity. Positive recognition goes a long way in cultivating these habits.

Set Up a Family Fund

Leading by example is one of the best things you can do. And while there are countless ways to show generosity, some ways are more powerful than others. For example, did you know that you can set up your own family fund to organize charitable giving? 

By setting up a simple donor-advised fund for all of your giving, you can donate to causes and charities you believe in with no minimum initial contribution or limit to the number of successor advisors or charitable beneficiaries. (In other words, your family fund can be passed down from generation to generation.)

Create Opportunity

So much about generosity is predicated on proximity. Do your best to put your children in close proximity to opportunities that give them the freedom to be generous and charitable. This could look like volunteering, living in a community where there are lots of needs, or giving them some resources to start their own charitable initiatives. 

Adding it All Up

Raising kids is hard work. It takes time, commitment, energy, resources, and resolve. However, it can also be enormously rewarding. Few things are more rewarding than getting to witness your children look beyond themselves and contribute to the good of others. Whether it’s their time, money, or emotions – generosity is a trait that you’ll never get tired of seeing in your children. Work hard to cultivate it today and they’ll enjoy a lifetime of happiness.


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