Teach generosity at home by modeling and talking about giving

How to Teach Generosity to Your Children

How to Teach Generosity to Your Children

by Bill High

Every parent is in the business of transferring values to their children, whether they’ve thought a lot about it or not.

Children pick up on values by observing what’s important to their parents and what’s not. Children also catch values by how their parents choose to spend time together as a family.

Many parents also make an intentional effort to teach children certain values and beliefs, with the hope that their children will embrace those values as their own. And they grieve when a child rejects their deeply held beliefs.

But let’s zero in on a specific value: How can parents transmit the value and the practice of generosity to their children?

That’s the question an important study by the IUPUI Women’s Philanthropy Institute sought to answer.

Put another way, the researchers were basically asking, What can parents do to ensure their children want to help others and make a positive difference in the world?

Notably, the study examined differences between the giving patterns of sons and daughters based on their parents’ practices.

But in addition to the gender-specific findings, the IUPUI researchers noted several general principles on parents successfully imparting values to children.


How Parents Teach Generosity

  • Parents who intentionally invest more in the upbringing of their children are more likely to see their children adopt a similar set of values.

However, it’s easy to take for granted that just spending time with kids is enough. There must be intentional activity.

Intentional activity includes “modeling, instruction, reinforcement…empathetic, positive and responsive caregiving…and conversations.”

  • Giving by adult children is influenced by whether they saw their parents give to charitable organizations. That influence is more strongly felt, for instance, in the parents giving to church.
  • Families who have traditions around charitable giving, including volunteering, are more likely to produce adult children who give.
  • Modeling charitable giving is not enough. There must be conversations around the why of giving as well.
  • Parental giving is tied to an 8.7% increase in the child’s likelihood to give as an adult.


Giving by daughters vs. sons

The study also found some interesting findings related to gender.

  •  For instance, parental giving led to a 3.6% increase of giving among sons but a 12.9% increase in giving among daughters.
  • Frequency of giving is a key factor. When parents give frequently, 79.3% of sons will give, but 84.3% of daughters will be influenced by this practice.
  • For higher-income families, the impact of the parents’ giving is far greater on daughters than sons.

For daughters, the parents’ giving leads to 92.4% also giving versus only 65.4% choosing to give if their parents weren’t charitable.

Interestingly, for sons of higher-income parents, 87.5% give regardless of whether their parents gave or not. This shows the likelihood of sons’ giving does not depend on whether their parents gave, while that of daughters is highly influenced by their parents.

In explaining why the parental giving played a greater influence on daughters, the study noted that possibly daughters are more likely to be socialized into a caretaking role. Giving may be seen as a form of caretaking for daughters.


Under any circumstances, the study demonstrates what every parent needs to know:

It is good to model giving to your children. It’s even better to talk about giving with your children. The more you give with them and talk about it, the more likely you are to end up with givers.

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Published May 17, 2019

Topics: Generosity

Family GenerosityGenerosityValues

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