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Is your child generous?

From egocentricity to real sharing, it takes quite a while for kids to learn the art of generosity.

Nancy Doyon, a family coach, specialized educator and founder of SOS Nancy, presents 5 main stages that children go through in learning to give and share.

Age 0 – 2: Developing relationships

Children don't really understand the notion of sharing before age 2. Before that, they might offer a piece of their cookie, for example, just because they're having fun.

Age 2: Having the power to give and take back

At this age, children enjoy giving as long as they're able to take back! It's not uncommon to see a child lend his truck and come to take it back 2 minutes later. This isn't real sharing, as the child will be upset if they can't take back what they gave. Before age 3, children have a hard time understanding why their little friend has something they can't have. They find it very hard to grasp the notion of taking turns or having to wait for what they want.

Age 3 – 4: Learning to give and take

"I'll lend you my truck if you'll lend me your doll." At this stage, children see sharing as an exchange. Again, this isn't really sharing, because they aren't offering something with the goal of making the other person happy. It's quid pro quo. Up to the age of 7, children are basically self-centred. They won't feel like sharing unless they will personally get something out of it, such as pleasing the other person, doing a favour, being liked, being praised, looking good, making mommy happy, getting another toy in return.

Age 7 – 10: Becoming altruistic

At this age, children understand that they have an effect on others and that they can behave based on the effect they want to have. More altruistic sharing begins, but often with the goal of winning friendship. Because they don't yet understand the value of money, it's not unusual to see children at this age start to give toys to their friends (but not to siblings, though). But again, sharing isn't yet free, because children are trying to gain the friendship of their peers through their altruistic behaviour.

Adolescence: The willingness to go without to help others

Real sharing begins in adolescence, when children are able to give freely without expecting anything in return. Many teenagers are prepared to go on humanitarian trips or participate in fund-raising campaigns. Adolescence is when children are prepared to go without something in order to give to others. It's also the age that they are willing, however briefly, to help their siblings.

Generous: not at all, a little bit, or extravagantly so

The 2 main factors that influence the child's willingness to give and share are their personality and the parents' involvement. Doyon says that as role models, parents are a major influence in whether or not their children are generous. For example, the more a child has, the harder it may for them to give, or even to understand that others want what they have. Contrary to what some may believe, the more spoiled a child is, the harder it will be for them to be generous, says Doyon.

Sharing is certainly admirable, but we shouldn't forget the proverbial "charity begins at home." As with everything, moderation is key. Doyon says that parents should show their big-hearted children how important it is to be assertive, be able to say no and develop a sense of discretion in giving to those who deserve it. Most importantly, she says, kids shouldn't feel that they have to give everything they have in order to be loved, because they can easily be taken advantage of.

Doyon recommends introducing the idea of sharing very early on. She suggests getting involved as a family in activities that focus on giving, like fund-raising campaigns or food drives during the holidays. Even though they might grumble about it and have a hard time understanding why they're doing it, they're still learning the importance of giving, she says.

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