Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Blueprint For Teaching Generosity To Children

April 9, 2001

"The covetous person lives as if the world were made altogether for him, and not he for the world; to take in everything and part with nothing." - Robert Smith

Would you like your children to be warm, empathetic, generous adults someday? Would you like teamwork, caring and cooperation in the family? How do you do that in a culture that incessantly promotes wealth, fame and competition as hallmarks of success?

Children are self-centered enough by nature. The job of helping them fit in as a member of society is difficult. If parents are fortunate enough to have comfortably secure financial lives, they are tempted to give advantages and experiences that have the unintended consequence of creating greed in their children's lives.

Parents shoot themselves in the foot by doing too much for their kids. Despite having tremendous benefits, their children grow up feeling in the midst of plenty - like a person in water and still thirsty. They want more and more. There is greed in their eyes. They have no concept of living without or scraping by and still being happy. They are not prepared for a lifestyle different from their parents.

Here are some guidelines for raising children to appreciate the worth of things in their lives. These suggestions will help them to be tuned into others’ needs as well as their own - regardless of the income of their parents.

Example. Parents can set a good example of living within a budget that has the basics covered without the push to acquire more and more extravagant "needs" and experiences. Parents can also show by example how to be generous with their time and means in helping causes and people less fortunate than themselves.

Collections. Be careful about encouraging collections. Collecting can encourage an obsessive attitude about having the best and the most. Collections can add to the enjoyment of life if they are handled lightly and disappear as interests change.

Sharing family responsibility. Children need to do regular work in the family as a part of being in the family. Work brings happiness, self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment that can come in no other way. Work expectations should be high and consistent. Children learn responsibility in the home. This responsibility could include watching out for the welfare of younger siblings and taking care of pets.

Money and perks. Children can be given opportunities to work, earn money and purchase the special things they want with their own money. The disposable income they have should be generally in line with other teenagers but not excessively so. Teenagers don't need new cars, the finest clothes or the latest "toys" of society.

Teens will excel in life by hard work and not by appearances. If they pay for their extras themselves, they may make the connection between their own work and the rewards they get from it. In that way they learn the value of money and how hard people have to work in society to meet their needs.

Excessive rewards in life, not tied to their work, will promote feelings of entitlement and privilege. They grow up with high expectations and are not prepared for hardship, struggle or making ends meet. The same could be said for experiences and entertainment. Elaborate dates, dining out and expensive larks can lead young people to wonder what else is there to do when they have done it all. It is a recipe for boredom and trouble when they finally reach young adulthood.

Giving gifts. Children can spend their own money when they give their parents, siblings and friends a gift. It will mean more if they have earned the money for the gift themselves. Allowances and work opportunities should be sufficient to allow some of their savings to be spent in this way.

Pitching in during tough times. Don’t protect them too much. Let them share in cutting back. Children grow when they sacrifice something for the family. When a family works together and all pitch in for something special, it creates special bonds.

Friendships. Childhood friendships are often the proving ground for learning basic morality of give and take, fairness, sharing, loyalty and reciprocity. If left on their own, childhood friendships teach that meeting the needs of others is important if friendships are to be maintained. Parents can facilitate healthy friendships so that these important lessons are learned with friends with high standards.

Respect for others. Children can be taught not to put down or make fun of those different from themselves - starting with their siblings. Too much teen-age humor is based on establishing their own importance at the expense of tearing someone else down. Help them to not be snobs or prejudiced.

Opportunities for service. Youths need opportunities to serve the less fortunate and to meet and interact with young people from different backgrounds. Cultures other than our own have much to teach about love, generosity and sharing. Belonging to an organized church and to service groups provides opportunities for young people to experience the joy of contributing to others. The joy of service is learned through sharing time and talents as well as money.