“Then around the age of two, the child who has had a good experience in the first two years of receiving empathy, is able to show it themselves,” says Professor McIntosh.
“One of the vital tasks of preschool education is to nurture the capacity for empathy, to be able to be in a group cooperatively and understand the impact of behaviour on other people.”
Parents need to lead by example
Christmas time or any peak time for gift giving is ideal for parents to lead by example. Professor McIntosh believes it’s critically important that parents not simply talk about the importance of being generous, but to actually show their children that they are being generous.
“In our house, we volunteer at Christmas time, we buy gifts that are from charities, we believe in re-gifting,” she says.
“Parents can make those choices; you can get yourself on volunteering lists, there are so many ways to show generosity. And nothing makes you feel better about yourself than to know you’ve just helped somebody.
“It’s also important to talk to your children with the same level of excitement about what we’re going to give other people, as the excitement around what children are hoping to receive, for birthdays and Christmas.
“Always make sure the list of what we’re going to give is longer than the list of what we’ve asked for. These types of principals are woven into the fabric of life and will set your children up for life.”
Children who see their parents going out of their way to help others are more likely to mimic that behaviour. According to Professor McIntosh, it’s incredibly important for children to see their parents in service to other people.
“It’s about giving up their time, not just their money, and making an effort to help others,” says Professor McIntosh.
“For example, cooking a meal for somebody. They will see that mum is busy cooking our meal and now she’s busy cooking a meal for somebody else who needs a meal too.
“Much of the impact of generosity is non-verbal and it’s associated with the reward centre in our brain; we get an endorphin rush when we do something good for other people.
“It’s so important that, even before a child has words, that the roots of civil responsibility are shown, particularly when it comes to caring for those less fortunate.”