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Lessons on Generosity

Thursday December 17th 2015 - 5:39 AM EST
Added by: Fairfield Psychological Associates, P.C

The following blog was adapted from an article in The Washington Post by Lauren Knight. Recently as I watched a scene unfold with my children, a thought came to me; what if the act of giving doesn’t come naturally or easily, but instead requires practice and patience What if our children have to acquire a taste for giving, much like they acquire their taste for a particular vegetable through repeated exposure to its flavor and texture Should we set our children up to experience how it feels to be generous, or should we let them come to it on their own It is true that giving gifts can help strengthen relationships among siblings. Studies on human behavior by psychologists, anthropologists, economists, and marketers all find that gift-giving is a “surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends.” And it is the giver, not the recipient, who experiences the biggest psychological rewards from the exchange. The gift giver experiences positive changes in brain chemistry, an increase in endorphins and a feeling of euphoria during and after giving a gift. According to Jeffrey Froh, Psy.D., of Hofstra University, and Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., helping others and being generous are essential for creating grateful, connected children. Feeling connected to those they are helping leads them to develop and value social relationships. Within a family, where siblings often compete with each other for attention, such connections are essential for healthy family life.< xml:namespace prefix = "o" ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />< xml:namespace prefix = "o" />

So what are the secrets to creating a positive giving experience for our children It may have more to do with choice than I had originally thought.

Research by Netta Weinstein and Richard Ryan found that college students reported higher levels of happiness on days that they had done something helpful or kind for others, but only when those actions felt self-chosen. Such self-chosen prosocial acts can even be seen in brain scans, according to a study at the University of Oregon; the reward centers of the brain were activated during the act of giving money, but turned out to be considerably greater when the person giving viewed the act as a choice rather than a mandatory charitable action.

One way to broach this issue with a child would be to say, “It is your choice whether or not you give your brother this gift,” rather than, “I really think you should give your brother this gift.” Making such a choice also ensures that the giver will feel a stronger sense of connection to the receiver, which is the whole point, after all.

That’s not to say that providing opportunities to think of others and to be charitable should always come directly from the source. If given the choice, most young children would choose to gift a desired item to themselves rather than others. It is part of their psychological and developmental nature to be a bit selfish, and we as parents should never make them feel guilty for this.

However, I’m willing to bet that with a little encouragement and a little practice, we can teach our children to be more giving, and in doing so, expose them to the wonderful benefits of generosity. And as such a skill will last them well into adulthood, transferring into many different relationships, it’s one taste worth acquiring.



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