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Teaching kids about charity

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Philanthropy at home

Kids are generally selfish creatures. It's part of their normal emotional development to think about themselves first. And it's part of our job as parents to help them develop empathy and understanding. This includes teaching them about the role of charitable giving in the greater world.

Child with CoinsCharitable giving truly starts at home. Children mimic what they see at home. If they see their parents acting and giving in ways that support causes and charities, they are likely to follow that example.

Talk the talk

The first step in introducing the idea of charitable giving is simply to talk about it. Talk about the ways in which you choose to give charitably. This is a great tie-in to talking about the values you hold in general.

We budget charitable giving into our monthly budget, and while it's a little contrived, I try to mention at the dinner table during regular conversation where our charitable giving budget is going this month. The kids learn a little about budgeting as well as about giving.

Walk the walk

Let your kids actually see you giving charitably in the community. Whether it's a few extra dollars at the grocery store or gathering clothing for a local shelter, actions speak. Again, this opens up many opportunities to talk about your values and why you make the charitable efforts you do.

Another way to support giving is to have a standing matching-funds agreement. If my kids want to give any part of their money of their own will -- allowance or birthday money or whatever -- my husband and I will match that amount, whether it's a quarter, a dollar or more.

Make receiving times giving times

One of the ways in which we have tried to tone down the consumerist nature of certain holidays and occasions is to establish those times for giving as well as receiving. On birthdays and at Christmas, our children receive coupons worth a certain amount of money to donate to a charity of their choice. The kids sometimes know which charity, and sometimes they do some research. Whenever the decision is made, we sit down together, talk about why they chose that charity and how it fits into our values. Then, I either write a check for the coupon amount or make a donation online.

Choose a cause

Another way to encourage charitable giving is to choose a specific cause to commit to over the long term. Whether it's a local hospital, a specific environmental group or an international human service organization, deciding that your family will support a cause over a span of years can be a great way to focus energies. You can even introduce your kids to fundraising through efforts such as bake sales.

However your family gives charitably, involving the kids from an early age reaps benefits for all of you -- and your causes -- for the long term. It promotes empathy and caring in your child while truly helping others.

Tell us: In what ways do you teach your child the importance of giving back? Comment below!

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