Aside from competitive pie baking and the even more competitive pie eating, Thanksgiving is traditionally a time when many Americans practice generosity. Families volunteer at local soup kitchens or invite lonely neighbors to share in their feasts of cranberry sauce, turkey, and mashed potatoes. But if you really want your kids to learn the value of being big-hearted, such gestures shouldn’t be limited to the fourth Thursday in November, says child development expert Robyn Silverman.
Silverman, who holds a Ph.D. in child development from Tufts University, developed Powerful Words, a character education curriculum taught in nine countries, which devotes a month to teaching children about generosity. She argues that this trait is teachable to every age as long as parents keep in mind one key point: Generosity is an activity that brings as much pleasure to the giver as to the receiver.
GreatSchools asked Silverman to share her tips for instilling the joys of giving in high schoolers year-round.
GreatSchools: How can you encourage generosity in your average teenager?
Robyn Silverman: Cater to what those children can offer. As kids get older, everything becomes more specific. When I was a child, I would go with a group to rehabilitation centers and sing to people. That was a way for me to give of my time and also of my talent. Cater to what it is that fulfills that child but also can be really beneficial to somebody else.
GreatSchools: You should think about what your teen has to offer as a person?
Silverman: You’re preparing them to develop their own talents and their real-world experience. If they love violin, then say to them: “You only have concerts once or twice a year. What do you think about doing it more often? Who else would like to hear you play the violin, besides the family? I wonder if some of the rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or senior centers would enjoy hearing you, because we love it. How nice it would be for them, and you’d be able to practice at the same time.”
Your child may be great at fixing bicycles or tinkering with electronics. Those are things that can be helpful to other people. If they’re great with tools and they can build houses, I would get them to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. These are things you can do with your child too.
A teen who is great at math can tutor underprivileged kids. There are kids who are amazing with animals, and they hate being with people — then get them into working with animals.
GreatSchools: Is there any frequently overlooked aspect of generosity?
Silverman: Thanks. Just being thankful to your child can help solidify generosity in their minds. That means parents need to be thankful when their kids step up. “That was very generous of you. I want to thank you for being such an amazing kid.” And when your child says “Thank you” to other people, even if it’s you, you say: “That really means a lot to me. I love being generous to you. It makes me feel fulfilled, and when you say thank you, it lets me know that you really appreciate it too.”