Spontaneous Generosity – can it be taught?

Our girls are 3.5. They’re used to sharing and taking turns. They’ve had no other normal.

Recently, we’ve been going through a (perfectly normal) stage where they want to claim preference of one thing over another. This has especially been playing out with their seats – at the table and in the car.

The screams and fights at the table were getting bad enough that we considered taking away the coveted chair and instead getting 2 identical options. But we didn’t. Because avoiding the conflict doesn’t solve anything. It just pushes the issue down the road to be dealt with again, over something that might not be so easy to fix. We wanted our girls to have the opportunity to work through it now.

Instead, I made a card and hung it from the back of the chair, labeling with the first letter of each of their names, with the intent to flip it every meal so they would each have equal access.

A curious thing happened. After initial implementing the plan and a couple switches to see if I would notice, they started being generous. E went over to the card when it was her turn and flipped it “to be kind”. I was floored, and my fairness-minded 6yo tried to argue with her that it was her turn, her right. She persisted, and she gave her sister her seat – willingly.

What we’ve been noticing more and more is that when our kids feel safe, protected, that they will be treated fairly, then they are more likely to be generous. When they feel threatened, they cling to what they have. 

This also extends to sharing toys. They’re expected to share most things, but they also each have a few “special” things they don’t have to share. The kids are getting pretty good at expressing what is special and respecting each others’ stuff to the point that they are now willingly entrusting said treasured items to the others, knowing they will get it back.

The process is hard. There will be setbacks and screaming sessions and crying fits as we continue to work through this, but I, for one, am encouraged to see generous hearts. 

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