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Are Toddlers Happier to Give than to Receive? New Research Says Yes.

Toddlers aren’t exactly known for their generosity.  They’re notoriously self-centered and unwilling to share, and their favorite words are often “more” and “mine.”

But new research has revealed that we might not be giving young children enough credit: toddlers, it seems, are happier to give than to receive.

Psychologists from the University of British Columbia conducted a study in which toddlers were given a treat and then were asked to give their treats to a puppet. They were then asked to give a treat which they hadn’t previously been given. The children’s happiness was measured throughout the experiment and results revealed that the toddlers were happiest when giving their treats to the puppets.The study’s lead researcher is quoted as saying, “People tend to assume that toddlers are naturally selfish. These findings show that children are actually happier giving than receiving.”

“People tend to assume that toddlers are naturally selfish. These findings show that children are actually happier giving than receiving.”

I’ll admit that I found the study’s results to be a little bit surprising. From a mother who’s knee-deep in the toddler trenches, I have to question whether or not we can extrapolate the findings from puppets to people. But further research led me to even more evidence that toddlers are hard-wired for altruism: in another study they were found to “engage in spontaneous acts of helpfulness” for strangers.

Granted, I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology but I do know this: there’s a difference between “selfish” and “egocentric” and instead of assigning toddlers with the scarlet letter S, we should label them the latter instead. It’s where they are developmentally. It’s completely appropriate for them not to share. The toddler years are spent modeling this behavior reinforcing good choices so that they develop social skills for later in life.

As parents of toddlers we can do this in simple ways:

1. Nurturing empathy by focusing on the feelings of others.

When you took your brother’s toy, it made him feel sad.

2. Positively reinforce selfless acts and sharing.

I was so proud of you when you helped your friend at the table!

3. Teach gratitude.

Encourage your toddler to always say thank you and talk to them about what gratitude means.

Social skills are learned, and we have to remember that we as parents are the most important role models of all. Whether toddlers really are happier to give than to receive, equipping them with the skills they need to navigate relationships is a great place to start.

Which basic social skills do you work with your toddler on?

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

So Dads are Happier? Why it Doesn’t Bother Me. 

Potty Training Tips from the Experts: Moms!

Family Biking with your Toddler: Tips from the Pros!

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