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Child Behavior: Teaching your children altruism



Ask Dr. Schwartz

It’s December, and it’s the holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza, children are making their holiday requests, stores are stocking up and television ads have a festive theme. Although the economy has improved and we seem to be feeling better about spending our money on gifts, it’s a time to reconsider alternatives to having more and more stuff.

 

How much stuff is enough?

 

I don’t know about other families, but my ten-year-old daughter has a lot of toys and dolls and usually gets more at holiday time, many of which lose luster very soon after they are unwrapped. Regardless, what all parents want for their children, now or at any time of year, is for them to be happy.

 

What makes children happy?

Not the short-lived kind that comes with tearing open a gift, but the kind of happiness that stays with a child and lasts long after the novelty of any new toy has worn off. The gift that brings this happiness is the gift of giving – the character trait known as altruism.

This season is a good time to teach the power of altruism to our children, how giving to others can reap huge benefits to the giver. How many of us overindulge our kids with stuff and under indulge them with real gifts that will help them build the character they will need in the future?

 

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.