All About Altruism, grades 2-6
Giving to others, sometimes referred to as altruism, can help students to:
develop a sense of impact on the world around them;
understand that there is gratification in acting in a kind and compassionate manner.
Some youngsters seem to naturally help others. For instance, a pencil drops in class and the child immediately picks it up for his or her peer, without looking for compliments for this action. Or, when a child is homesick at camp, another youngster tries to comfort the distressed camper.
Your child may feel compassion and be giving, yet other factors may hinder others from taking note. For instance, if your child is shy, spontaneously offering support may be uncomfortable. For such a youngster, there may be other ways of giving.
Benefits of offering help to others:
- Potential to join a social group with a common goal (e.g., raising money for a particular cause);
- Children sometimes feel more empowered when they realize that they can influence the world in a positive manner;
- In this day and age, youngsters sometimes feel that the adult world is a scary place, filled with potentials for terrorism and harm. Altruistic acts can help some children to realize they can have a positive impact on the world and are not helpless;
- Seeing the struggles of those around them, and helping out, can remove the youngster’s focus on him or herself and personal challenges;
- Peers, seeing that the giving child cares, may model some of the behaviors.
In several elementary school classes within the district, students have participated in an ‘altruism game,’ where they were asked to catch peers in altruistic acts, write down the action without writing their own name on the page, and then the papers were reviewed in a week’s time. The students admitted to being surprised at how much sharing and giving went on within their class.
This ‘altruism game’ not only highlighted the giving acts of students, but it also served to pull the students together into a more cohesive team.
Ways To Support Giving:
- Help your children to identify their own feelings, so that they can more easily know that others might have similar needs/feelings;
- Since children who give to others just to receive a compliment are engaged in this activity for external reinforcement, it may be helpful to rephrase feedback. For instance: “How did you feel giving to that child?” “I wonder if you feel as happy to give to others as others often feel giving to you?”
As with any skill that we work to develop, the way one can express giving can be an educational experience. When skills are still developing, the child desiring to be altruistic may actually be perceived as intrusive. An example would be if a student picks up a book that fell from another’s desk. The owner of the book may respond by stating, “Why are you touching my book? I am right here. Leave the book alone. It’s mine.” This can certainly confuse the child who is trying to be giving.
Children model from the adults around them. In authentic situations, we can always point out to youngsters why we helped, did not help, or recommend certain responses for them. For instance, giving a child the answers to a math test may seem altruistic but certainly can have long-term, negative ramifications for the child receiving the answers.
Giving to others can allow students to realize their power to influence the world!