I have recently taken on a project with the grade that I sponsor at my school. We are running a school wide preschool (k2) through 11th grade food drive for a local food pantry. Amazingly one of the first things that I was asked by many people both children and adults alike was, “Will there be a prize for class or student that brings the most.” I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to offer rewards for this type of event, but it worries me that it seems to have become expected in our culture at large.
Generosity and lack of entitlement seem to go hand in hand. Children that feel entitled to everything struggle to see how others could be in need. I can’t control the culture, but I can work to shape my child, so that he is counter culture when it counts. To be fair, this is speculation since he’s only three and not “done” yet. However, here is my plan for creating a generous non entilted kid and one day grown up.
- We don’t give him everything he wants. This feels hard sometimes because we all want our children to be happy, but temporary happiness isn’t the goal of parenting. We intentionally say no to some things that could be seen as easy request. He needs to learn that special treats are just that special! It’s hard to be generous if you’ve never felt want of any kind yourself.
- We practice giving. By no means are we major philanthropist, but he does see us give to the church and other non profits. We also try to volunteer as much as possible. I want him to know that generosity isn’t always related to money. People need to give of themselves as well.
- We encourage him to give. This started out with him being the ones to put the cans in the box for a food drive or even letting him hand a family member a gift that we had purchased. I’m trying to move toward his ownership of it. This time I’m planning on giving him a few small jobs around the house to earn money, so that he can go buy some cans of food for the pantry. He natural seems to want to share (most of the time), and we try to praise that whenever we see it.
- We educate him about those in need. He’s only three, so these talks have to be adjusted for his age, but he has seen some pictures of the Syrian refugees and those recently hit by the earthquakes. I have also tried to explain that there are people near us that don’t have enough to eat. One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was to raise me on the grounds of a homeless shelter. We were not homeless, but my parents worked and lived on site. Getting to really know people in need changes your perspective on poverty. I want my son to share in what I see as the family tradition of coming into someone’s need or suffering and trying to make a difference.
- We expect thankfulness. I work with him on saying thank you which I know all parents do. I’ve also tried to model thankfulness when he does something for me or gives me something. This can be as small as making over a flower that he picks for me. I also encourage him to explain exactly what he is thankful for when he shows gratitude. For example we might have a conversation like this, “Why do you like the sweater that Grand gave you?” and he might say, “I like it because it’s my favorite color.” I’ll then take time to explain that he should tell her that he is tankful for the nice color.
I’m not sure that all of these things will work to create a grateful and generous adult. I do however hope that it works. Surely there will be times when he fails just like there are times when I fail, but I hope to develop the habit of helping early.