How to Cultivate Generosity in Our Children

December 5, 2017

 

Nearly every spiritual tradition has a practice of generosity and giving. We call it Dana in some traditions, Caritas in Christianity, Tzedekah in Judaism, alms or communal sharing in others, or in the United States, “The Holiday Season” stretching onward from Black Friday through the New Year. These spiritual (and commercial) practices existed long before the term “positive psychology,” but the principles overlap significantly. We know now that making a practice of kindness and generosity leads to physical and mental health and social and spiritual benefits.

In families, children are often in the “getting” role, while adults are in the “giving role,” but how can we encourage that spirit of generosity in the next generation?

We are wired to be generous, and both neuroscience and well-worn clichés tells us we feel more joy in giving than in receiving. However, our consumer culture tells us the opposite, that getting will make us feel better. These messages run counter to the spiritual and scientific wisdom showing health and happiness come more through giving than getting. Just imagine if our society received just as many messages urging us to give than get, if people camped outside stores for days just to donate to the latest charity.

Among the many benefits, generosity also builds trust between people. Studies show that the giver’s brain regions associated with trust and connection light up, fostering optimism, reducing depression, and creating healthy attachments, showing us why cultures develop practices related to gift-giving. The benefits even extend to just witnessing an act of generosity.

 

So how can we encourage generosity our families? Here are a few ideas to consider.

  • Involve your kids in the decision for charitable giving, taking into account what your family’s values are: Social justice, the environment, health issues that have impacted your family, presents for children or families in need, and so on.
  • Follow the lead of my friend’s grandmother who gave the grandkids $100 each year, with $50 to spend on themselves and $50 she would donate to a charity of their choice.
  • Remember that giving can also include your time or your support. Volunteer as a family, a practice shown to boost happiness, empathy, and build closeness.
  • Give experiences; the happiness will last longer than the lifespan of a toy. Perhaps travel, theater tickets, or museum passes.
  • Donate toys to make space for the new. Notice together which toys are getting lonely and would be happier in a new home, saying thank you and goodbye to old toys, and imagining the happiness they will bring after they’ve been donated.

 

Looking for more great reads?

 

 

Excerpted from Raising Resilience by Christopher Willard, Pysd.

Christopher Willard, Psyd, is a clinical psychologist and consultant specializing in bringing mindfulness into education and psychotherapy. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, teaches at Harvard Medical Schools, and leads workshops worldwide. For more, visit drchristopherwillard.com.

Christopher Willard

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Christopher Willard, Psyd, is a clinical psychologist and consultant specializing in bringing mindfulness into education and psychotherapy. The author of Child's Mind (Parallax, 2010) and other books on the topic, Dr. Willard lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard Medical School and Lesley University. For more, visit drchristopherwillard.com.

Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interview with Christopher Willard:
Growing Up Mindful »

Also By Author

How to Cultivate Generosity in Our Children

 

Nearly every spiritual tradition has a practice of generosity and giving. We call it Dana in some traditions, Caritas in Christianity, Tzedekah in Judaism, alms or communal sharing in others, or in the United States, “The Holiday Season” stretching onward from Black Friday through the New Year. These spiritual (and commercial) practices existed long before the term “positive psychology,” but the principles overlap significantly. We know now that making a practice of kindness and generosity leads to physical and mental health and social and spiritual benefits.

In families, children are often in the “getting” role, while adults are in the “giving role,” but how can we encourage that spirit of generosity in the next generation?

We are wired to be generous, and both neuroscience and well-worn clichés tells us we feel more joy in giving than in receiving. However, our consumer culture tells us the opposite, that getting will make us feel better. These messages run counter to the spiritual and scientific wisdom showing health and happiness come more through giving than getting. Just imagine if our society received just as many messages urging us to give than get, if people camped outside stores for days just to donate to the latest charity.

Among the many benefits, generosity also builds trust between people. Studies show that the giver’s brain regions associated with trust and connection light up, fostering optimism, reducing depression, and creating healthy attachments, showing us why cultures develop practices related to gift-giving. The benefits even extend to just witnessing an act of generosity.

 

So how can we encourage generosity our families? Here are a few ideas to consider.

  • Involve your kids in the decision for charitable giving, taking into account what your family’s values are: Social justice, the environment, health issues that have impacted your family, presents for children or families in need, and so on.
  • Follow the lead of my friend’s grandmother who gave the grandkids $100 each year, with $50 to spend on themselves and $50 she would donate to a charity of their choice.
  • Remember that giving can also include your time or your support. Volunteer as a family, a practice shown to boost happiness, empathy, and build closeness.
  • Give experiences; the happiness will last longer than the lifespan of a toy. Perhaps travel, theater tickets, or museum passes.
  • Donate toys to make space for the new. Notice together which toys are getting lonely and would be happier in a new home, saying thank you and goodbye to old toys, and imagining the happiness they will bring after they’ve been donated.

 

Looking for more great reads?

 

 

Excerpted from Raising Resilience by Christopher Willard, Pysd.

Christopher Willard, Psyd, is a clinical psychologist and consultant specializing in bringing mindfulness into education and psychotherapy. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, teaches at Harvard Medical Schools, and leads workshops worldwide. For more, visit drchristopherwillard.com.

Christopher Willard: Growing Up Mindful

Christopher Willard is a licensed psychologist who focuses on mindfulness, anxiety, and learning issues. With Sounds True, he has released a new book and companion audio called Growing Up Mindful: Essential Practices to Help Children, Teens, and Families Find Balance, Calm, and Resilience. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Chris and Tami talk about the inherent difficulties of being a child and how mindfulness practice can help ease the tensions of growing up. They discuss the different ways one can teach meditation techniques to kids, as well as the different ages at which one can start this instruction. Finally, Chris shares his vision of how mindfulness could be a powerful public health intervention—one that could possibly have an essential place in the future of childhood education.
(59 minutes)

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Mindful Day was inspired by the time I’ve spent with my toddler grandson. I hope readers will embrace Mindful Day and make mindfulness part of their own family life. In this way, we can better treasure each precious moment—and help our children learn to do the same.

 Thank you,
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Deborah Hopkinson has a master’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, where she studied the role of women in thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhism. She lived in Honolulu for 20 years and practiced Zen Buddhism with the late Roshi Robert Aitken, founder of the Diamond Sangha and Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She lives near Portland, Oregon. For more, visit deborahhopkinson.com.

 

 

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