Health & Well-being

Sharing the very good gift of generosity

Parenting Place Goodness of giving

About this time each year I ask my kids what they’d like for Christmas and they promptly find a pen and paper and present me with a list. It’s not a long list – we’ve reigned in their expectations to four gifts: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Even so, the invitation to produce such a list puts my kids in an incredibly privileged position. This fact isn’t lost on me, and I hope it’s not lost on them either. Which is why their list-writing comes with a hearty serving of “Kids, remember that it’s better to give than receive” on the side.

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed – Proverbs

Generosity is a wonderful attribute with loads of benefits. Here are just five of those that can be especially helpful for our tamariki.

1. Giving shifts the focus off ‘me’.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying that all kids are selfish, but most are pretty good at thinking about their own needs and wants. And they’re great at telling their parents all about those needs and wants! Plus advertising and media repeatedly (and loudly) tell our kids “You really need this, you really want that.” It’s no surprise that kids are relatively capable of taking care of number one. A remarkable power of generosity, however, is that it flips the switch of self-interest and redirects us to see the needs of others. That right there is endlessly beneficial, but put simply – giving combats selfishness. Win, win!

2. Giving is good for mental health

There is a lot that is out of our control, even more that’s out of our children’s control, but giving provides our kids with a pathway for agency and leadership – giving enables kids to use their own money, energy and ideas to make the world a better place. Seeing that potential to make a difference, big or small, for someone else can really empower a child and help combat the feeling of being overwhelmed by the state of the world – especially in light of the challenges of recent years.

3. Giving is good for perspective

When we chose presents and give things away, we’re thinking about other people – what someone else might need or want, how we might be able to help someone or simply make them smile and bring some joy to their world. That’s actually really good for our kids’ sense of community and their outlook on life – it’s not just about them anymore, they are part of something bigger.

Children become less inclined to see the world simply from the point of view of ‘me, mine and myself’. We all need opportunities to expand our view of the world. The reality is that not everyone gets presents at Christmas time and not every child gets to write a list of what they would like to find under the tree. Generosity is a powerful eye-opener, while still bringing hope along with perspective.

4. Giving is great for gratitude

When we teach our children about generosity and show them ways they can give, we’re also helping them become more thankful for what they have. As a result, they may drop their demand for more as they appreciate what they have already got. Being grateful and thankful can add a lot to our own happiness and contentment. Win, win, win!

5. Giving is courageous and kind

It’s not easy to step into another person’s shoes and walk around for a bit – it takes bravery and kindness. More of that in our children, please and thank you. 

But how do we teach it?

Possibly the most effective way to teach our kids about generosity is to model it ourselves. Kids learn from example, and they will notice us acting on those everyday opportunities to be generous. Involving our kids in things like donating to charities, choosing presents for people, leaving tips and thank you notes to those who serve us… there’s an endless array of lovely generous moments to grab a hold of and include our children in. Talking about generosity and sharing inspiring stories of philanthropy will also spark our children’s curiosity in this area and encourage them to think of creative ways to share what they have with others.

And besides the good old-fashioned parental role-modelling, here are some other ideas for ways to get kids giving...

– Sponsor a child in the developing world through the likes of TearFund or World Vision. Kids can be directly involved by perhaps contributing some of their pocket money each month and writing letters to their new friend in a faraway land.

– De-cluttering bedrooms and donating toys and books to charity. This is a great moment to talk to your kids about only giving away things that are in good condition – op shops don’t want our rubbish. Level up with a chat about consumption, quality vs quantity and less is more…

– Choose new toys to buy for other children and donate them to various Christmas gift initiatives.

– Invite your kids to choose something to purchase as a family from a Gift for Life catalogue – useful items that can make a huge difference to families in the developing world.

– Invite your kids to choose non-perishable food items at the supermarket and donate them to a food drive. Sometimes supermarkets have trolleys or collection points at the checkouts, ready for your donations.

– Find your local pātaka kai and donate some food items each week.

– Instead of birthday presents, ask for donations to a cause that your child feels passionate about. (This may seem way too idealistic, but true story – my 10-year-old has been invited to two birthday parties with these very instructions!)

Giving is good for our communities, it’s good for our families, it’s even good for our health!

In writing about generosity, I have wondered if some of these concepts might sound a tad lofty or unattainable. But that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable – aim high, right! Giving is indisputably good for us. It’s good for our communities, it’s good for our families, it’s even good for our health! Yep, research has shown that generosity releases happiness endorphins, reduces stress, helps us sleep and even extends our life! Generosity really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.