Help children learn to be generous

Help children learn to be generous

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s a good time to start thinking about how to give back while teaching children to focus on others by developing a generous spirit.

A recent study may up the ante on the importance of teaching kindness and generosity to children. The University of Chicago found children from religious upbringing demonstrate less “altruism,” or kindness, than their non-religious peers.

“Our findings contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others,” said Jean Decety, professor in psychology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, in a news release. “In our study, kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous.”

A team of developmental psychologists studied more than 1,100 children 5 to 12 years old who resided in six countries. The researchers examined the children’s tendency to share, and how likely they were to judge others for perceived bad behavior.

During the study, children played a game in which they had the ability to share stickers. To gauge their moral sensitivity, the children watched animations of characters that bumped into one another and were asked the level of punishment required, if any. In addition to the children’s testing, parents also filled out questionnaires detailing their religious practices and beliefs. The families were characterized into three groups: Christian, Muslim and non-religious.

Researchers found the religious children were less likely to share their stickers than the ones from non-religious backgrounds. The religious children were also more likely to favor stronger punishments for the mean behavior they viewed through the animations.

Regardless of religious beliefs, the Rev. James Christian, vice president of mission and spiritual care at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., says the act of giving is part of children’s nature that can be nurtured.

“Parents lead by example through the ways they serve those in need,” says the Rev. Christian. “Faith communities and family values instill grateful living and giving rather than anxious self-centered insecurity, judgments that are charitable toward others and morals that do not engage in moralism toward others.”

The Rev. Christian suggests families get involved with a charity, volunteer at a local animal care center or donate food to a homeless shelter.

“These kinds of experiences provide an opportunity for children to think less about themselves and instead focus their energy on how good it feels to help others,” he says.

The Rev. Christian offers these family-friendly ways to serve others during the holiday season and throughout the entire year:

  • Deliver cookies to a fire station, police department or hospital
  • Choose a child’s name off of a giving tree and purchase the gift together as a family
  • Send cards to members of the military serving overseas
  • Clean out your coat closet, book shelf or toy chest and donate items to a local shelter
  • Donate groceries to a food pantry
  • Prepare a meal for a local homeless shelter
  • Sing carols at a nursing home

Websites such as can help identify local organizations that are in need of volunteers and donations.

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  1. You have got to be kidding. 1100 children out of millions. Only child or many siblings. Poverished socio-economic families/countries. Stickers. Really. Why not something worthwhile. Mittens in a cold country. Food. Something you would actually share, something needed. This article is not worth printing. Very misguided. Religious practices, including moral behavior, can be practiced by aethieists, even if they don’t believe in God.

  2. This is awful. A study of just over a thousand kids is being used to conclusively say that non-religious kids are more generous than religious ones? Good grief. I thought this article was going to offer ideas and suggestions for getting kids involved in volunteerism and community outreach… not some hugely irresponsible conclusion drawn from a research study that has no merit whatsoever. Which countries? How religious were the kids? Were the non-religious kids atheists, agnostics, or neither? What were their home and school lives like? What the heck is the information presented here expected to do for me, and your other readers? Is there something useful that comes out of concluding that religious kids are less generous than non-religious ones? Are we to expect kids who go to church will grow up to be a heartless jerk of an adult? You titled your article “Help children learn be generous,”- so how do you want me to do that? By raising my kid to be an atheist? Since if I leave religion out of his/her life, he/she will be more generous… right? We should be trying to instill compassion and empathy in kids regardless of religious beliefs. In light of all the religious turmoil and strife it has caused in the world, please leave religion out of an article about “learning to be generous” next time. How very irresponsible.

  3. I agree with the comments above. The way in which the writer represents this very shallow study to her readers leads me to believe that she has an agenda to push. How sad that she didn’t choose a higher ground, with a more “generous” attitude toward all. I would have loved more service ideas to share with my generous AND religious children. Very misleading title.

    • Dr. Azmey Matarieh
      health enews editor December 15, 2015 at 4:31 pm · Reply

      Thank you for your comments Denise, EAB and FayO, we will definitely take these comments into account for a future story idea.

About the Author

Johnna Kelly
Johnna Kelly

Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.