Young children are egocentric by nature. As any three-year-old knows only too well, the world revolves around them. "I want...", "Give me...", "It's mine!" and other variations are the mantras of this age group. This self-centred behaviour is developmental, which means it's something they grow out of... or they're supposed to.
In the eagerness to get kids off to a good start in life, a spirit of generosity is one quality that parents can easily overlook. Developing children's personal competencies tend to be higher on most parent's wish lists for their kids than developing a generous spirit.
But developing a sense of sharing in kids has plenty of positives. Children who are able to share their time, their space and themselves generally have more friends and experience more success than those who are self-centered and mean-spirited. Quite simply, they are leadership material.
Like most facets of child-rearing, developing a community ethos in kids can be a frustrating task -- but perseverance, modeling and expectations are a parent's greatest allies when it comes to things that really matter.
Here are five practical ways to develop a sense of generosity in kids:
1. Expect kids to help
With families shrinking, kids get fewer opportunities to help at home than before. With this in mind, expect your kids to help without being paid. Regular chores and activities that benefit others, such as setting the meal table or helping a younger sibling get dressed, teaches them that their contribution is valuable and very much required.
2. Think 'gang'
It's a quirk of modern life that parenting is an individual endeavour. "What's in the best interest of my child?" has replaced "What's in the best interest of the family?" as a key parenting principle. Encourage children to make allowances for each other, which may mean everyone watches a sibling's special concert rather some children missing out because it's "boring". Looking out for each other is a wonderful family strength that often needs to be reinforced by parents.
3. Don't let them get away with meanness
Children wear L-Plates when it becomes to behaving generously. They don't always get it right, which means that parents as the wise adults need to remind children when their words and actions are intolerant or mean-spirited, or when they need to put their own needs behind the needs of others.
4. Develop a sense of other
Children and teenagers don't live in a bubble. The socialisation process demands that kids be accountable for their poor behaviours. "What does this social situation reasonably require of my child at his or her age and stage of development?" is a great question to ask yourself to develop a sense of other, rather than entitlement in kids.
5. Encourage giving
In times of disaster there are plenty of stories which show the generosity of Australian kids. However, rather than waiting for a tragedy to give them a kick-start, we need to encourage them in everyday life. You can begin by encouraging them to give toys, books and clothes away when they have finished with them, or doing a good deed by a neighbour or friend.
The skills that kids need for future success are changing as technology, greater flexibility and mobility, and new economic forces are transforming workplaces at an astonishingly rapid rate. But the basic attitudes and character traits needed to succeed, such as teamwork, initiative and generosity, haven't changed too much over time. Ask any employer and I'm sure they'd say they'd hire a giver over a taker any day, as they are just so valuable to have on a team.
Hopefully they are not becoming a rarity as well.
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