Like most parents, I often wonder what kind of adults my children will be when they grow up. I hope they will be altruistic individuals, giving more than they take from the world.
But my children are constantly bombarded by messages from billboard ads, celebrity figures and TV commercials that scream the opposite—that pursuing luxury and comfort leads to happiness. How do parents tune out “gimme” mantra and replace it with a spirit of generosity? Try these simple steps to put your child on the path to philanthropy.
- Model a Life of Giving
“Children are watching all the time, and you need to ‘walk the walk,’” says Ellen Sabin, author of The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving. “There are dozens of things that you can do every day to demonstrate giving.”
Sabin wrote the book as a gift for her 6-year-old niece, Leah. “I was hoping to show her she was powerful and could change the world around her, and that it feels good to do that,” Sabin says.
- Adopt a Charity Annually
Sabin suggests that together, family members choose a charity to support each year. “Join an annual walk for autism, cancer or another cause,” Sabin says. “When you are at the dinner table, decide how you want to spend your philanthropic dollars.”
Since children often connect with helping animals, consider a charity walk that benefits pet rescue or animal adoption. Or participate in Heifer International’s “Read to Feed,” a program in which children find financial sponsors and then read a designated amount. The money they earn provides education, tools and livestock to feed millions of families around the globe (learn more at Heifer.org).
- Donate Your Time
While it is important to donate money when we can, it is also important to give time out of our busy schedules to help others. Take your children with you when you volunteer at a local homeless shelter, food drive, animal shelter or school fundraiser, and sometimes deviate from your own schedule to do something special with your child.
- Take Care of the Environment
One simple way to teach children to give is to teach them to be kind to the earth. Start a recycling program at your child’s school or pick up trash together. Grow a garden in your backyard or volunteer to work in a community garden. Donate some of the produce you harvest to a local soup kitchen. You will help others in need and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.
Recently, my family volunteered at an annual waterway cleanup. It made an impression on my 8-year-old son, Andrew, who felt a sense of accomplishment when he
realized he was helping keep a habitat clean for creek life. Now he wants to adopt a stream to help monitor the quality of waterways in our community.
- Keep It Simple
I often feel overwhelmed when I consider all the people and organizations that need help. But teaching children to help others includes more than donating time and money. Let someone in front of you at the grocery checkout line or let other drivers go first in a crowded parking lot. Smile and say please and thank you to restaurant servers, store clerks, mail carriers and trash collectors. I tell my children how much those particular employees improve our lives. Always look for opportunities to model kindness and compassion, and children will do the same.
- Make Giving Part of Everyday Life
The Wright family makes it a point to practice random acts of kindness throughout the year. One day, Anthony Wright and his 9-year-old daughter, Vivian, gave out helium balloons to strangers in front of Wal-mart just to brighten their day.
One woman gave Vivian a donation to help pay for the cost of the balloons,” Wright said. “We bought more balloons and gave more away.”
Sarah Crupi, a mother of five, teaches her children to be considerate when they visit others by including younger children when playing, helping the hostess and picking up after themselves. “I’ve heard several moms specifically request my children to attend an event because they know they can count on them to contribute and be helpful. That is super rewarding to me as a mother.”
- Give All Year
Last year during the holidays, I did my annual sweep, looking for cans of food that had lingered in the pantry for months and clothes that were ready for Goodwill.
As I did this, it occurred to me that more than consciously meeting someone’s need, I was treating giving like an end-of-the-year afterthought. If I really wanted my children to have giving spirits, I needed to give year-round and enlist their help.
Now we routinely pick out non-perishable food at the grocery store and take it to a food pantry. Every season, we go through outgrown clothes and toys, and they help choose what to give away. We talk about who might be a good recipient for the items and where we should take them. I want my children to understand that giving to others is a way of life, not just something we do once a year.
Every day there are opportunities in the world around us to give. Choose one of them and start down the road of lifelong giving with your child today.
Janeen Lewis is a freelance journalist and mom of two who has a heart for feeding the hungry and helping clean up litter in her community. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom’s Survival Guide, and GreenPrints: The Weeder’s Digest.
10 Picture Books that Teach Kids to Care
- The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin
- 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
- When Stories Fell Like Shooting Stars by Valiska Gregory
- Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier
- The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway
- Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
- Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
- Kids’ Random Acts of Kindness by Conari Press