Giving certainly doesn’t need to be relegated to the holidays, but the season is a perfect time to practice what you’ve been preaching all year.
At the Waldorf Academy, a grade 1 alternative education school, we believe in practicing what we preach, and not only do we focus on creating a space for generosity, we also model the same behaviours ourselves.
To explain why this is such an important topic and why it’s so important to the Waldorf teaching philosophy, we’ve prepared an overview for you here.
Here are some useful and effective ways to help introduce a tradition of giving and generosity during the holidays, and help them actually care about it too.
1. Let Them Help Plan
Context matters in order for children to get the most impactful learning, which is why letting them plan for themselves is the best way for them to understand the benefits of altruism.
When you instruct them to give something to another, or to perform an act of helpfulness, all they’re accomplishing is following your instruction.
On top of this, they may end up developing resentment toward you for telling them they have to give away something they may have wanted to keep for themselves.
If you allow them to come up with their own acts of generosity, though, it means they have not only observed and understood a situation, they have also processed that and felt empathy for another person.
Allow your child to find their own way of expressing that empathy and kindness, and the lesson will be much deeper an experience that will also last a lot longer.
2. Set Appropriate Expectations
While very young children are capable of helping others unbidden, and often do so, this is not necessarily true of all children.
Don’t get frustrated if your child seems to be possessive or struggles to share.
It doesn’t mean your child will grow up to be a miser – generosity can be learned by anyone, and a “mine, mine” phase is common in a lot of children.
A better way to foster generosity is to look out for and congratulate them on those behaviours, without being too extravagant with the praise.
Your child will soon enough learn what you see as valuable, and will notice how good it makes them feel to help others.
3. Lead By Example
When you were reading above about letting children plan their own generosity, did it make you wonder, “Well, how will they know how and when to be generous?”
The good news is that children from as early as 18-21 months have been observed helping others, without being prompted, scrutinized or rewarded.
In other words, generosity comes naturally.
What you CAN do to help them, however, is to model generosity, empathy and altruism without fanfare, and at any opportunity.
Children absorb everything you do, so be mindful to do good, and your child will understand generosity perfectly well enough on their own.
4. Don’t Reward Them
An important but slightly counter-intuitive point in fostering a generous child is to be sure to never reward them for their kind behaviour, as it has the opposite effect to what you’re trying to achieve.
The idea of generosity is to give freely and openly, without expecting anything in return, and if you teach your children to expect a reward every time they do something good, you lessen the lesson of generosity in the first place.
“That was really kind of you, I’m proud of you” is a lot more effective in fostering a spirit of generosity in your child than “that was really kind of you, now let’s go get some ice cream as a reward.”
5. Speak The Language Of Generosity And Connection
Several studies have linked specific vocabulary with increased generosity; for example, reading the word ‘love’ on a page has been shown to increase the level of compassion a person then feels toward another immediately afterward.
Connection between each other fosters generosity, because we see ourselves as inter-dependent when we are connected to each other.
When you or your child describe those connections, try to use positive words, such as kindness, loving, friendship, giving, helpfulness.
Another option is to read stories about kindness or about people helping each other, as science shows that this tends to inspire the exact same behaviour.
6. Be Generous With People You Don’t Know
Another valuable lesson for children is to make sure they don’t discriminate with whom they are generous.
In order to understand the true nature of generosity, children should also give to those who don’t look like them.
This is especially important in a city like Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world.
No matter what your ethnic, religious, or social background is, living in Toronto, your children are likely to see people who don’t look like them on a regular basis, and they should know that those people deserve as much kindness and generosity as the people who do look like them.
Once again, they learn this best by watching you, so be careful when you’re choosing which charities you donate to, or to those you give gifts or help to.
Contact Waldorf Academy
At the Waldorf Academy, we create connected classrooms where we discuss and engage in taking care of other students, faculty and staff in order to create an environment that fosters altruism.
We do this because research indicates children who feel cared for and respected by fellow students score better on their studies, including on math tests.
For more information on this topic, the Waldorf education or how we can make an impact in your child’s life, call us now to set up a meeting.