Children are naturally empathetic. We see it all the time: The little one who tries to soothe his baby brother with a favorite toy, the kids consoling a friend on the playground who fell and skinned her knee. It only makes sense, then that you would want to capitalize on that natural compassion and caring for others to raise children who are kind, giving, and charitable.
The problem, though, is that many parents struggle with how and when to introduce charity to their children. Small kids might not understand the concept of giving yet (and truly, for all of their compassion, many very young children are still a bit selfish, as anyone who’s heard the cries of “Mine!” can attest) and some parents are concerned that exposing their kids to extreme poverty, sickness, or other issues may upset them and cause anxiety. These are all natural concerns, but it is possible to teach your kids about charity and giving back in such a way that they actually want to help and maintain a giving spirit throughout their lives.
1. Look for ‘Teachable Moments’
Sometimes, the best learning comes “in the moment,” not in a drawn out lecture about the importance of giving back. When you see your kids doing something nice for someone else, or see someone do or say something charitable, engage in a conversation. Remind kids that even small things that make others smile or feel good can be counted as charity; for example, visiting an elderly neighbor to say hello, or holding the door for someone at the store.
When you praise kids for their actions, they’ll want to continue, and understand the importance of putting others ahead of themselves. And remember, kids are naturally curious, so encourage them to ask questions and answer as honestly as possible — and leave the door open to a discussion about how they can help.
2. Model Charitable Acts
Kids imitate what the see, and if they see you helping others, they will want to do the same. While donating money is certainly important, kids don’t really make the connection between writing a check and helping others. Make a point of modeling charitable acts, even if it’s as simple as bringing them along as you make a donation of unwanted items. Show them that anything unwanted could be donated, from small items on up to that old car or boat sitting in the backyard.
If they see you volunteering and helping out — and that it makes you happy — they’ll understand the rewards of it and want to participate as well. Even if they just see you dropping spare change into a donation bin, stopping to let other cars out into traffic, or picking up trash on your morning walk, it will make a difference.
3. Make It Relevant
When kids have some input into the projects they’re involved in, they are more likely to be passionate about it and stay committed. Again, kids are compassionate and are likely to have concerns that you might not have even considered that could make a fantastic charitable project.
When your child shows concern — perhaps they are worried that the dogs at the animal shelter don’t have any bones to chew on — use that concern as a starting point for a project. Perhaps your child could have a lemonade stand to raise money to buy bones, or request dog toys instead of gifts for their birthday. The important thing is that you allow your child to take the lead. Don’t take over or do the work for him or her, but provide guidance and help when needed.
4. Get the Whole Family Involved
Getting the whole family involved in a charitable project not only establishes giving back as something your family values, but also helps you make lasting memories and strengthen your bonds. Plus, it can be fun! Consider establishing family traditions for giving back, such as sponsoring a family during the holidays, participating in spring cleanups in a local park, or walking together in a charitable walk.
5. Making Charitable Giving Automatic
Finally, you can establish giving as a habit when children are very young by having them designate a portion of any money they earn or receive as gifts for charity. One common method is to divide all money into thirds, to spend, save, and give. If a portion of all money is automatically earmarked for charity, kids will never miss it — just allow them to decide how they want to donate it later.
Teaching children about charity may seem challenging in today’s instant gratification society. With some changes to how you give and some gentle encouragement, though, you can raise kids who are cheerfully charitable to others.