How to Teach Your Kids to Be Charitable
All parents want to raise children who think of others. In a time when kids have more “stuff” than ever before, and are constantly bombarded with messages from the media touting consumerism, narcissism, and a “me first” mentality, it’s more important than ever for parents to actually teach their children how to be charitable.
However, many parents, while well-intentioned, actually approach these lessons the wrong way. For example, many families attempt to make others’ situations more “real” to their children by bringing the entire family down to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to volunteer for a few hours. While such lessons can make an impression on children — and such organizations are always grateful for help — the actual act of volunteering with children doesn’t always go as planned.
Elementary school-aged children, for example, often cannot complete the tasks that are necessary to operate a soup kitchen, and end up creating more work for organizers. Not to mention, many of these “family volunteer” activities are one-time events, and fail to create the long-lasting impression that parents are hoping for.
So how can parents teach their children to give back, and create the engagement and sense of responsibility that helps them contribute to society? There are actually several ways to do so, and you can start with children as young as 4 or 5 years old.
The Rule of Thirds
One of the most popular ways to teach children about charity, and money management, is to follow the rule of thirds. Any time that your child receives money — from a birthday gift, allowance, doing chores, etc. — they divide the sum into three buckets: One to save, one to spend, and one to give. When the money reaches a pre-determined amount, you and your child can work together to determine where and how to donate the funds.
For example, a young child might opt to spend the money on cat or dog toys to donate to the animal shelter, while older kids might use their accumulated cash to sponsor a friend or family member in a charity run. The idea is to get kids used to the notion of designating a certain portion of their income to charity.
Create a Family Charity Project
Getting the entire family involved in a charity project not only instills philanthropic values into your children, but also helps you to educate your kids on how to identify the right organizations to support, make important decisions, and come to a consensus on important projects. This is especially useful when one family member wants to help, say, animals, while another is interested in cleaning up local parks and another wants to support children overseas. By researching organizations as a family, you can teach children what to look for in a worthy organization and how to evaluate their work.
Once you’ve determined an organization, brainstorm with the kids on how you might help out. It might be as simple as spending an afternoon in the park with some garbage bags, or more involved, such as spending a weekend decluttering the house and donating items to charity or having a garage sale to raise money. How you decide to give back isn’t necessarily as important as the fact that you are doing it as a family, and showing your kids that their hard work is worthwhile.
Join Charity-Focused Organizations
Getting your kids involved in organizations that support charities, such as 4-H, Girl and Boy Scouts, and church groups, can support your efforts to teach them about giving. Girl Scout troops, for example, are well known for their cookie sales, and commit to donating a portion of the troop sale proceeds to charity. Official youth groups may also have access to opportunities for volunteer work or major projects that individuals don’t — and kids get to have fun working alongside their friends.
Be a Spontaneous Giver
Not all charitable giving has to be a formal, structured affair. Incorporating charity and kindness into your everyday lives helps build a giving spirit in your kids. Try making random acts of kindness, like paying for someone else’s drive-thru order or toll, or buying some extra food for the food pantry on your weekly shopping trip. Drop a few coins into the bucket when a group is raising money outside of the store when you go to shop. When your kids see you giving, they will want to do it themselves.
Combatting the sense of entitlement and selfishness that can so easily occur in today’s world is challenging, but by focusing on charitable values, you can make great strides in that direction. Who knows — maybe when they are older, your kids will ask YOU to go to the soup kitchen with them to help.