On my fireplace mantle are three precious possessions: a Charlie Brown doll, a stuffed moose toy, and a little dancing bear. These were gifts from my great-grandchildren when their mother suggested that they give something of themselves to me for my birthday. What better way than to share a beloved toy! Of course, I must remember to be generous in turn, so we will play together with these toys when they visit.
Raising generous children does not just happen. We live in a greedy society in which having more, consuming more, and wanting more are parts of daily life, even for children. Bombarded by television commercials, competition for more toys, more treats, and more privileges, children are apt not to value generosity unless they are taught to do so.
Children learn by example--good or bad. So, if we want to teach our children to be generous, we must first look at ourselves. As teachers and parents we often urge our children to share, probably several times a day, but our own sharing may be less visible. It’s important that children see us being generous. Then we can also involve them in both the fun of planning and the fun of doing the generous acts that enrich our lives.
As Americans, we realize that although we live in a prosperous society, not everyone in this world is so blessed, not even everyone in America. As we teach about generosity we must remember to point out the need for it. Not everyone has the essentials of life. If our children see that they indeed have more than enough, and that there are those around them who do not have many of the comforts of life, then giving and generosity have added meaning. In addition, we need to make it clear that we do not have more because we are better. In fact, having more imposes a new and sober responsibility that we share. God has given much to us so that we can give much to others.
Too often we think of generosity in terms of large donations or gathering aid. But it’s also important to note that generosity does not only take the form of giving monetary or physical possessions. High on the list of generous sharing is the gift of time. Whether it is a chat in the aisles of the grocery store, a few moments pushing the swing at the park or reading a book, a child loves to benefit from the most valuable of all assets—your time. And so they too, can be encouraged to be generous with their time.
In fact, time is one of the most simple things children can give on their own, with very little aid of an adult. They can be encouraged to write a note to a grandparent, teach a younger child to toss a ball, help a teacher carry books to her car, or chat with an elderly friend who is lonely. They can learn to open the door for someone whose arms are full, hold the hands of a younger sibling, or befriend the new kid in class. These are significant gifts in a rushed and often impersonal society.
Another form of generosity that is often overlooked includes encouragement and positive reinforcement. Sadly, some of us are downright stingy with praise and well-wishing! While we shouldn’t fabricate artificial praise, it is pretty safe to say that a message of hope or a pleasant word can be said in almost any circumstance. A generous spirit will express joy when others have been blessed, offer a happy or peaceful thought during difficult times, and can motivate when the going gets rough. I will always remember the favorite words of a dear friend. "You can do it!" she would exclaim. "Come on, you can do it!" Her generous spirit encourages me years after her death.
There's a whole world out there crying for our help. If we want to make a difference for Christ’s sake, we must be intentional in our example and in our efforts to grow children with giving hearts. For you see, generosity is like tying shoes. It is a simple thing, but it is learned best by first watching and then doing.
A little girl on vacation with her parents stayed at a nice motel. How delighted she was when the maid left a wrapped candy on each pillow! The next time she and her parents helped out at the homeless shelter, this little girl spent her allowance for candy, which she carefully distributed to each bed at the shelter. First she was the recipient of a generous act, then, when given the opportunity, she passed it on.
Adapted from Thoughts about Raising Generous Chidren in a Greedy Society by Myrtle E. Felkner, originally published by Children's Teacher.