It's the season of giving, and parents are wondering, how do I teach my kids to be generous? The answer may not be as clear as you think.

CBC parenting columnist Ann Douglas spoke to Shauna Powers on CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend about the do's and don'ts of teaching your kids about generosity.

The biggest mistake parents make is taking on huge family generosity projects where the parents direct how the kids should give.

"They actually like things a whole lot more if they take the lead," Douglas said.

While that might mean scaling down the project slightly, she believes the experience will also have more an impact on them.


Children may not be able to give as much as adults, but if they direct their own giving, it will have a lifelong impact on them, says parenting expert Ann Douglas. (CBC)

You also don't have to reward kids for being generous.

"Children who are offered a reward for doing something kind for another person are actually less likely to repeat that behaviour in the future," Douglas said.

In fact, you may not have to do much to encourage your kids to give. Douglas said studies have shown kids are naturally inclined to help, even as young as 21 months of age.

"This is really good news to parents who have a toddler who is deeply embedded in 'the mine stage,'" Douglas said. "Sure, your child may not be about to relinquish his death grip on his favourite toy truck any time soon but eventually, he'll stop being allergic to the whole idea of giving."

'Children who are offered a reward for doing something kind for another person are actually less likely to repeat that behaviour in the future.' - Ann Douglas, CBC parenting columnist

The best thing you can do is to be a role model.

"Kids pay attention to what parents are doing as opposed to what they're saying," Douglas said. "Let them know why you choose to be generous, how great it makes you feel."

Ann recalls a time many years ago when she and her son came upon a woman who was crying at the side of the road. She stopped to talk to her to find out what was wrong. It turned out the woman was short money for rent and was in danger of being evicted from her apartment. Ann gave her the money in her wallet to help.

Her son still remembers that moment to this day.

"He told me that now, to this day, when a friend is going through a hard time, he is the kind of person that can't not help somebody in times of need."

Giving also needs to be an ongoing part of your life, not just during the holiday season.

Research from the science of generosity initiative at the University of Notre Dame said generosity has to be practised consistently in order to have an impact on the giver.

So if your goal is to raise a generous child, you have to be generous all year round.