***The saying “to give is to receive” really expresses how I feel about altruism and contribution. We sometimes think of contribution as being selfless, but research shows it is highly mutually beneficial. When we contribute to something or someone outside ourselves we receive huge gifts in return. So why is it that we want our children to learn how to contribute to the greater good; to “give back”? What’s important about that? Fundamentally, we are social creatures. We crave a sense of belonging, whether it’s within our families, peer groups, communities or even on a global scale. Contribution, no matter how small, can feed this sense of belonging and even connect us to others in ways we may have never thought possible. This is one of the reasons kids contributing around the home is a great way to make them feel good. It also has the secondary benefit of lessening your workload. Nice by-product, huh? Monetary contribution is a great way to introduce kids to charitable giving. However, I would argue that this is one tiny part of understanding how we can have an impact on the people and the world around us. Money is helpful, necessary and an inseparable part of our lives, but it doesn’t always penetrate below the surface in the same way that putting our “heart” into giving back does. Having said that, a wonderful way to teach kids about money is to give them an allowance. It doesn’t need to be a lot – the amount is not the point. Split the allowance into save, spend and give categories. You can never teach kids too much or too soon (well, maybe wait until they no longer want to put coins in their mouth) about money management. They will need this skill throughout their life. Scientific research also shows that giving money away actually activates the reward centers in the brain and makes us happier. However, a very important part of supporting causes, to take a line from Jessie J’s song, it’s really “not about the money” all the time. “We just want to make the world dance, forget about the price tag.” Good thing for you I can’t sing in writing… Think of a time someone brought you something in a time of need. Maybe you were sick or grieving. Now imagine a child drawing a picture for you or giving you a hug in the hope it would ease your pain. It’s not always the picture that does something for you. It’s the care and mere fact they are thinking of you and your wellbeing that matters. I believe thoughtfulness, empathy and “heart”, above all else (including money) is what connects us and gives us that sense of fulfillment and belonging. Teaching our children to be thoughtful, empathetic and generous not only benefits those around them, but also creates a sense that they are important in the world. Money or no money, one can shift things for the better. What could be more powerful? Here are a few things we can do to introduce these values into our parenting: Feelings are key: It is no accident that little ones learn about feelings in preschool – it’s usually a big part of the curriculum. Reading feelings is incredibly important! Any chance you get to help them understand their own feelings and those of others helps to nurture that profound sense of connection with those around them. I wrote a piece on “Reading Feelings” that includes some great kids’ books on the topic of understanding feelings and emotions, if you’re interested in learning more. Share acts of kindness with reckless abandon: Hold the door for someone. Say “Bless you” or “Gesundheit” when a stranger sneezes. Be respectful to your cashier or server at the restaurant/coffee shop/grocery store. Heck, say thank you to Siri (even if she totally misquotes you when you’re dictating a text). Carry a neighbor’s groceries from the car, take a meal to an elderly friend or relative – the more your children join you in these acts of kindness, the more they will understand how it feels to give back. Gratitude: When you are with your family in a calm moment (or if calm is an elusive state, perhaps just “in a moment”), ask them what they are grateful for and share what you are grateful for. Robert Emmons, a Ph.D. and research scientist from University of California, Davis, says regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent! Boom – you’ve just made a winning parenting move with one question. Nice work. Pay it forward: Though gratitude is a great jumping off point, be sure not to stop there. We can do more than just practice “grateful thinking.” We can teach our kids to take what we are grateful for and make a real, tangible difference. Turn gratitude into action and incorporate your kids’ interests to engage them. Let’s say your child says they are grateful for the park. Find ways in which to give back to that space – contribute in a way where others will benefit too. Perhaps there is a spot where a tree had fallen in a storm. Look into working with the community to plant a new one. Or if your child says she’s grateful for her teddy bear, ask her if she has toys she doesn’t play with anymore that may be given to other children so other children can feel that same way. If they’re grateful for a friend, maybe they want to draw a picture for them? I’m sure you and your kids will come up with many highly creative ideas. Even super simple ones can have an impact. Kindness and thoughtfulness don’t have to cost anything. We have endless supplies of these resources if we choose to tap into them. Give your kids the opportunity to feel this sense of belonging and significance by showing them the difference they can make in the lives of others. It will make a positive difference in their life too. How do you teach your children to pay it forward? Let us know in the comment below! Related posts Parenting pointers: Does your child feel lovable? The importance of positivity, from an Oprah expert 5 science-backed secrets to happiness
Our #BRIKAmonthlymantra for April is Miyamoto Musashi's “Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world," an always-important reminder that felt even more pertinent in light of world events in 2016 thus far. We asked our resident parenting and family expert Liz Berholz to speak on the significance of teaching our kids altruism, generosity and gratitude, virtues that should be practiced as much – or even more than – they are preached. Founder of Liz B. Parenting, a parenting consulting practice, Liz Berholz is an educator, speaker and Adler Institute-trained Life and Professional Coach. Liz works with parents of toddlers, tweens and teens by giving families the tools they need to create homes and lives filled with mutual respect, cooperation, connection, responsibility and fun.