Raising a Generous Son or Daughter

It's up to parents to turn selfish kids into thoughtful, caring, giving human beings

Generosity doesn’t develop naturally — it’s learned. Who better to teach it than a child’s parents?

Gratitude has been called the “mother of all virtues” — and it’s an effective antidote to selfishness and envy.

If you have a child, you know what it’s like to have your offspring defend their favorite toy from other kids by grabbing it and screaming, “Mine!” As a conscientious parent, you apologize and encourage your child to share.

But children are born selfish — at least mine were.

I’ll never forget the time the woman who lived next door rang my doorbell. I opened the door only to have her start yelling, finger pointed at me, calling my six-year-old son a “retard” because he wasn’t sharing with her older boys. I tried to reason with her, but she held her position. She stomped away in a huff after my daughter came to her brother’s defense, and told the woman not to talk about her brother that way.

It’s a matter of survival for a newborn to demand attention to their needs. A child can begin to learn the benefits of sharing as early as two years old. But it does no good to shame a child for not sharing.

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Like many parents, my wife and I forced our kids to share when they were younger. Forced giving only reinforces selfishness and fosters resentment. Later, we learned a better way to teach our children generosity. Even with my oldest in her early teens, it wasn’t too late to try a new approach — one that has helped our kids develop a desire to give to others.

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Our approach involves a combination of teaching through example and words.

1.) Recognize the Giver
The Bible teaches us to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Teach your children to feel and express gratitude by giving thanks. I routinely call my wife and kids together in the evening for a family devotional time. In addition to reading something inspirational, I sometimes use this time to ask each family member to tell the rest of us at least one thing they’re thankful for.

Gratitude has been called the “mother of all virtues” — and it’s an effective antidote to selfishness and envy.

Expressing thanks for the good things in life leads us to recognize the giver. I’ve taught my kids that whatever good things they have in life are a blessing from God. I encourage them to not take these things for granted, but to make a habit of thanking God, and thanking the people who’ve been a part of delivering God’s blessings.

Inviting your child to raise money or volunteer for a local charity is a good option.

Whether it’s at a family devotional time, a meal time, or when you’re tucking them into bed, encourage your children to tell you what they’re grateful for, and to thank God and others who’ve blessed them.

2.) Reinvest the Gift
Jesus told a parable about a wealthy man who, in planning to be away for a while, divided up some of his cash among his three servants (Matthew 25:14-30). Two of his servants saw an opportunity and invested the money. The third, fearing the man was harsh and stingy, hid his portion until the man returned.

Gratitude opens our minds to opportunities that fear keeps hidden from us. When we make a habit of giving thanks for the blessings we’ve received from God and others, our eyes open to opportunities to “pay it forward.”

Encourage your children to reinvest their blessings by blessing others.

My wife and I encourage our kids to give a tithe on money they receive for odd jobs or gifts. Inviting your child to raise money or volunteer for a local charity is another option. Last winter, my family volunteered with a local motorcycle club to deliver donated blankets, gloves, and toiletries to homeless people camping on the sidewalks of downtown Portland, Oregon.

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My kids have enjoyed several opportunities to be generous to others. But it’s important to not force your child to be generous. Generosity has to come from the heart — otherwise it’s no more fun than paying taxes.

3.) Reap the Benefits
The only acceptable motivation for generosity is the desire to do good for someone. But when we act on that desire, we open the door to receiving more blessings.

“Give and it will be given to you,” Jesus said (Luke 6:38).

The giver receives a greater blessing than the receiver. As a parent, you can contribute to the rewards your child receives by being generous in your expressions of generosity toward them. Giving a simple compliment, giving notice to your child’s altruistic act, will encourage a child to act generously in the future.

It won’t make them perfect, but a generous child will be happier, healthier and better mannered. You can’t put a price on that.

Jon Beaty, a life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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