Parenting with the Theology of the Body in Mind: What’s the Best Way to Teach Generosity?

Parenting with the Theology of the Body in mind means, at least in part, looking for ways to both model and encourage the kind of self-donative generosity that enables family life to feel like the gift it is meant to be.

In order to accomplish this, parents often give kids extra, material, rewards (privileges, stickers, etc.) for making good relationship choices like taking turns and sharing.  As we note in Parenting with Grace, anecdotal evidence suggests that these kinds of rewards can backfire by  making kids mercenary.  That is, this approach to parenting takes kids’ focus off of people and relationships and, instead,  making them focus on what they’re going to get out of being good.  That’s why we recommend more relationally-based consequences and rewards (physical affection, genuine praise, family time, etc.) as opposed to material consequences and rewards (star charts, stickers, privileges).  New research further backs up our recommendations.

Getting kids to share their toys is a never-ending battle, and compelling them to do so never seems to help. New research suggests that allowing children to make a choice to sacrifice their own toys in order to share with someone else makes them share more in the future. The new findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

These experiments, conducted by psychological scientists Nadia Chernyak and Tamar Kushnir of Cornell University, suggest that sharing when given a difficult choice leads children to see themselves in a new, more beneficent light. Perceiving themselves as people who like to share makes them more likely to act in a prosocial manner in the future.

Previous research has shown that this idea — as described by the over-justification effect — explains why rewarding children for sharing can backfire. Children come to perceive themselves as people who don’t like to share since they had to be rewarded for doing so. Because they don’t view themselves as “sharers” they are less likely to share in the future.

Chernyak and Kushnir were interested in finding out whether freely chosen sacrifice might have the opposite effect on kids’ willingness to share.

“Making difficult choices allows children to infer something important about themselves: In making choices that aren’t necessarily easy, children might be able to infer their own prosociality.”  MORE

And Check Out These Resources for Healthy Relational Discipline Techniques:  Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids


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