We want our kids to be giving, and that doesn’t work by forcing it. But as happened with little Blake Work, we can help foster the spirit naturally.
Any mom who finds that she’s constantly trying to impart the value of generosity in her kids will be inspired by Blake Work’s story. The six-year-old Florida boy recently spent six hours sitting outside his house hosting a “free toy stand.” His mom, Melissa Work, revealed the source of her little one’s generosity by explaining that she had told him he could play outside as long as he cleaned his room first.
When Blake lamented the multitude of toys that would entail putting away, Melissa, in a brilliant mama move, invited him to see it differently. “I explained to him that [toys] are blessings, that he’s very fortunate to have them. And that there are a lot of kids out there that don’t have that many toys, or any toys at all.” Touchingly, Blake was heartbroken upon hearing this. “His face dropped. Like it immediately hurt him,” Melissa said. He then told her that he had an idea to put his toys out and offer them to others, like a free lemonade stand.
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The following day, Blake went to work. He gathered his most beloved toys and set them out at the end of the Works’ driveway. To advertise, he made a sign with poster board, which read, “Cheer up kids. Come to Blake Work’s house. We have free toys for you.” If your heart’s not melting yet, read on.
Hours passed and no takers arrived but Blake wasn’t giving up. He insisted on staying put, even bringing his kid-sized couch and blanket outside so he could rest.
Finally, along came some patrons. One man insisted on paying $5 for Blake’s favorite robot to give his grandson. According to Melissa, Blake “immediately talked about giving the [money] away.” Later, a family with small children came and took several books, and finally, Blake got a visit from his teacher, whom Melissa had messaged. “She came out to … tell him how proud she was. It was the perfect way to end the day.”
From left to right: Blake Work, his mother Melissa and his teacher. Photo courtesy of Melissa Work
Although Blake’s generous undertaking is heartwarming, generosity doesn’t come so easily to all kids, and that’s perfectly okay. Most parents have a tough time teaching their youngsters to share things or give them away. As renowned pediatrician and parenting expert Dr. Sears explains, “True sharing implies empathy, the ability to get into another’s mind and see things from their viewpoint. Children are seldom capable of true empathy under the age of six. Prior to that time they share because you condition them to do so.”
There are, however, simple steps we can take as parents to encourage generosity. First and foremost, it cannot be forced, only exemplified. Dr. Sears advises respecting the natural possessive tendencies of kids while modeling generosity ourselves. If our children witness us practicing this virtue, they will more naturally come to know its value.
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As Parents.com writer and mother of seven Ellie Kay explains, “From the time my kids were toddlers, they worked alongside my husband and me [doing charity work]. As a result they grew up thinking of others above themselves.” So if you’ve got time to give back in your community, take your little tikes along for the ride.
Since an ability to empathize has so much to do with a giving spirit, teaching kids to identify the feelings of others can plant seeds of generosity. Slate.com parenting advice columnist Melinda Wenner Moyer points to a study conducted in 2012 showing “that kids as young as 18 months were more likely to share and help others when they had parents who asked them to label and explain emotions depicted in books.” Surprising? Yes, but it sure makes sense.
So when it comes down to it, if we want our children to be more like Blake, it starts with exercising generosity ourselves and teaching them empathy. If we can do that, we’ll be fostering generosity in our own homes that will have further reaching implications than we realize.
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