Guiding kids through their first efforts at giving charitably is a rewarding experience for both of you. For all their egocentric tendencies, kids get tremendous satisfaction in being able to say, "I helped someone" -- even in the smallest of ways.
From toddler through teenager, encouraging regular charitable giving is a great way to instill awareness of a greater good.
When kids are very small, the money they have tends to be in small quantities, too. Whether it's a handful of change or a couple of small bills, even young kids like to have money, and they like to hold onto it -- tightly.
While you're running errands is the perfect occasion to highlight some giving opportunities for your child. Collection jars for special causes often sit on counters in convenience stores. How about the firefighters collecting at the town fair? These are ideal times to suggest that your child part with some of that sweaty money for the benefit of a local burn victim or for medical research. Success may depend on your child's age (and fist strength), but it's a worthwhile conversation nonetheless.
After age-appropriate discussion about giving a bit of what you have to help others (and how that little bit will join with others' little bits to make a bigger whole) -- and a reminder that the child will still have some left -- most kids agree. Making this a regular part of money, budget and allowance discussions helps make charitable giving a regular and consistent part of your kids' lives.
As kids get older, this charitable giving can have more focus. Allowing older kids to research and commit to specific causes helps focus discussions about charitable giving and helps teens come up with longer-term giving plans. For your teen, this may even be the beginning of a lifelong philanthropic effort.
Many parents have a standing family policy of matching funds for their children's efforts. This technique is often used by charities to boost fundraising. Likewise, introducing it early at home shows your child right off the bat how important his giving is. Depending on what you are able to do as a family, this can be a regular policy or a special event policy (for a birthday or holiday, for example).
In tough economic times, chartiable giving is even more important than usual, but also more difficult. Teaching our kids early that even the smallest contribution makes a difference to the greater whole helps bridge this difficult gap -- and helps creates philanthropists for life.
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