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How to teach an 8 year old compassion and generosity? Or am I expecting too much?

We've always taught our kids to be giving especially to those in need. Today I was putting some clothes to donate to the local resale (city run) store. I have a bunch of things to take and she said that she didn't want to help unless there was something in it for her. She saw and origami book yesterday and was begging for it and I told her if she read another book first and wrote a report on it I would buy her the origami book. She agreed, but now thinks that she should get the book just for riding along to donate clothes and household goods.

We haven't raised her that way, I'm just wondering where this selfishness is coming from. It doesn't seem normal because nobody in the house is like that but her. She is the baby, but then again - so was I and I don't recall being so self serving.

*to be clear, I have explained a few times what the resale shop does with the money they make selling the clothes, and who benefits from that and why we participate in giving. It's not as if she has never asked or been told why. I guess I'm just a little disappointed.


Asked by QuinnMae at 3:01 PM on Nov. 3, 2013 in School-Age Kids (5-8)

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Answers (11)
  • I really don't think I would have acknowledged her at that point. Obviously you have raised her to understand... maybe she's just having an off day. Just let that one slide and continue to monitor it. I know you do right with your children, as I see your responses. I'm not entirely convinced that it's NOT a bad thing for a child to be a little selfish. Sometimes being overly compassionate can lead to other issues. I raised both of my children like that, but sometimes I see it wasn't such a good thing with the oldest. She's too nice....

    Answer by m-avi at 3:45 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • is she always that way?

    I think most kids are both giving, AND selfish...depending on the day/ situation

    Answer by charlotsomtimes at 3:07 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • Just lead by example as you are doing. She will get it over time. Stay calm and don't overreact

    Answer by silverthreads at 3:16 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • I wouldn't get too upset. All kids can be selfish little monsters at times. It's a learned skill that also comes with age. Maybe next time she wants something like the book, tell her she has to pick out some of her things to give to girls who aren't as blessed as she is then help her pick out some of her things, clean them up, bag them and take to the resale store. Maybe this will help her understand a little

    Answer by Nimue930 at 3:18 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • I think we are all naturally selfish. And she is only eight. When she behaves selfishly, call it by its name and tell her that we are not a selfish family. I might also require her to do something unselfish for which there would be no possibility of her getting any kind of selfish benefit. This may call into action your creativity.

    Answer by NannyB. at 4:23 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • The thing about kids is that they are brutally honest, even about their own feelings. It could just be that she was just not feeling the giving vibe at the time. Besides, kids tend to try to push their limits when they want something, and they tend to get very creative. Just reinforce that giving to charity means doing it because you want to, not because you expect something in return.

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 5:05 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • I agree about leading by example. Kids are naturally self serving in many ways. What you are doing is planting the seed. We live near downtown Seattle and walk the downtown core a ton. The kids see junkies and transients sleeping in doorways or alleys or in tents under the bridge. While it's not nice, it is a fact of life. To drive our point home, sometimes we'll say, "Hey, think of how lucky you are! Remember that man under the bridge, he could use a little help." And when I give a dollar to someone, we always talk about helping out. I think you're doing the right thing.

    Answer by jeanclaudia at 5:51 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • Not usually. She has actually gotten excited to help pick out food to donate. I just found her position of her not wanting to help unless there was something in it for her as really selfish. My kids don't want for much, but they don't get everything they want either. We had a deal for her to earn the origami book. Riding along in the car to donate goods isn't going to earn her anything.

    FTR, I decided I would wait until tomorrow to donate the stuff so I would have a little more time to get more things together and go through some of my clothes as well.


    Comment by QuinnMae (original poster) at 3:14 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • Thanks for the ideas of having her do something selfless. We do that pretty consistently, which is why I was a little caught off guard by her response. I think part of it was that she just wanted to hang out and play with her friends today. I just felt a little disappointed at the way she responded.

    And I also get not wanting her to be too nice or giving, without boundaries. I guess I will just keep an eye on her going forth.

    Comment by QuinnMae (original poster) at 6:31 PM on Nov. 3, 2013

  • Is it expecting too much? Yes. At eight years old the universe does revolve around them. This is where they are supposed to be at this stage. It is our job to show compassion and kindness to others. It is through our good deeds and our modeling of compassion that ultimately help children as they mature understand what it looks like and how it gets carried out. Continue to donate, that is modeling compassionate actions, discuss (briefly) why you do this. Say it in ten words or less. Keep it light and routine, normal. If she asks questions then answer them. Typically this is the tail end of the universe revolves around me stage so hang in there. I actually have started three jars for conversation. A caring jar, a spend jar and a save jar. He gets five one dollar bills for an allowance each week. He has to put something in each jar. That is the only rule. Then at the end of the month he decides,

    Answer by Anonymous at 7:41 PM on Nov. 3, 2013