Whether we realize it or not, children are innately generous towards others. When they see another child fall down at the playground, they help them up. Or when their younger sibling cries, their first instinct is to make them feel better. Although it seems that children's lives revolve around presents, toys and all things material, it is important to cultivate and encourage their budding charitable instincts.
According to Deborah Spaide of the Kids Care Club, an organization providing information for kids who want to get involved in community service, teaching kids to give is just like teaching a baby to walk, "Just as we give our children opportunities to use their legs when they're learning to walk, we need to give them opportunities to exercise their charitable muscles so they become really good at giving too." Here are a few tips to guide parents in teaching their children generosity and the importance of giving to others.
1. It's Not All About Money
For us adults, the immediate association with charity is money. We give money to the causes we care for, to charities we support, and people we want to help. But according to Spaide, children struggle to understand the connection between helping others out and giving them money, "Many children can't take the process that many steps forward in their minds."
That's why it is important to let children participate in hands-on giving when they are presented with the opportunity. Taking the kids to the soup kitchen for a couple of hours, and working with them to help a neighbor carry their groceries or clean their lawn are good ways to start. It's also important that children pursue causes that interest them so that they will feel as if they are directing the show. However, in the case that they are disinterested, there is nothing wrong with the parent leading the way, but as long as the child is encouraged to feel that his good deeds come from an autonomous place.
2. You Don't Just Give Them Allowance
If you give your children allowance, another useful way to encourage charitable giving is by dividing it up into three parts: one part for their spending, one for saving and another for sharing with others in any way they choose. It may not be easy to get them to give up their precious stipend, but encouraging the behavior of giving can slowly transform into an excellent habit.
Those that think that dividing up allowance may be too difficult should try directing children's spending. If your child insists on using his allowance to buy a toy, try suggesting that they buy the toy for donation, and then go with them to deliver it. The notion that they have given up something for the good of others will instill a great deal of confidence in the child and make it more likely for them to want to give again, and again.
3. Become a Subtle Teacher
There are people all around us who need help and in so many ways, so it is a good idea to expose children to what the needy experience and why they need help. For instance, instead of giving your child a lecture on poverty and its woes, when you pass a homeless person you could explain what it means to be without a place to live and money to buy food. Or, when you pass a nursing home, explain why the elderly need the help and encouragement of able-bodied youngsters. It is important to explain that acts of kindness are appreciated by the other side and serve to make people happy.
4. Monkey See, Monkey Do
This is where you, the parent, gets to brag about your charitable deeds. The point is not to literally brag (because that of course would turn them off from the whole shebang), but to tell them about the good things you do and why it is important for you to do them. If you are helping out a friend in need tell the child about it--not so they will feel sorry or sad for the person you are helping--but so they will view you as a charitable role model. Here is it also crucial to emphasis the positive aspects and results of your giving to others, rather than the pity and sorrow for those being helped. So whether you have a soft spot for the environment, the sick and elderly or the impoverished, tell you children about what you do for others and how great it makes you feel.
Giving to others has an undeniably positive effect on all of us, including our children. Our job as parents is to foster this charitable instinct so that it becomes second nature, and a few of these pointers may help you do just that. The bottom line of what children should take out of their charitable deeds is that they are making small but vital contributions that in turn will make the world a better place.