At this time of year children can easily become preoccupied with the materialistic aspects of the holiday season. They are bombarded with advertisements and social media that can drag the attention away from the positive aspects of the season including a sense of family, strengthening interpersonal relationships and giving to others.
Historically, influential child psychologists such as Justin Aronfreed and Albert Bandura hypothesized that young children learn social behaviors like giving and altruism by observing the adults around them. A classic study conducted in 1972 involved 128 4th and 5th graders and how they view giving behavior (Midlarsky, et al., 1972). The children observed a model that won or lost a certain game, and then either gave away portions of his winnings or kept the winnings to himself. Furthermore, the model showed positive emotion when he gave away his winnings, but showed little emotion when he kept the prize. The children’s responses to his behavior were measured using various surveys of trust and social desirability. The results suggest that children were most likely to be generous if they observed an unselfish model who experienced positive affect when making his donations. This means that children observe the behavior, as well as emotional reaction to the adults around them in relation to altruism, or giving to others.
Based on the theories and research on the ways in which children learn to value giving, it is important to remember that modeling positive behavior and managing holiday stress is key. Children can be involved by being given simple chores to help prepare for parties and gatherings, allowed to come up with ideas for gifts for friends and family, and by volunteering with their parent to help those less fortunate. Theory holds that if a child actively participates with a joyful parent in acts of giving, then her or she will internalize the joy of helping others.
The holiday season can be stressful for everyone involved. Children are easily distracted by the promise of material items, and are often pushed out of planning for events by stressed parents. If we can show our children the joy in giving to and serving others it should make for a much more meaningful season of giving!
Social learning and personality development. Albert Bandura and R.H. Walters, 1963.
Midlarsky, Elizabeth; Bryan, James H; Journal of Experimental Research in Personality, Vol 6(2-3), Dec 1972.