Five Ways to Encourage Our Children to Embrace a
Giving way of Life
By: Margaret MacMillan
The most common words children hear during their early formative years are: love, yes, no, please, thank you, and share. These simple words keep them safe and provide them with the foundation necessary for understanding that they must treat others with respect and have regard for their feelings. The word “share,” which children come to understand means letting someone else have their turn or giving something up so someone else can enjoy it, too, is their introduction to the larger concept of giving. When we share, we often receive whatever it is we shared back. The act gives us pleasure, knowing we have shared something we enjoy with someone else. When we give, we are sharing some of the good fortune with which we have been blessed, with no expectation of getting it back. Giving makes us feel even better than sharing because it is a selfless act that benefits someone else.
Giving has been shown to make us happier caring adults who understand that charitable giving makes communities stronger. It is important that we provide our children with the opportunity to give and to encourage them to do so.
Here are five ways we can inspire our children to give so that giving becomes as natural to them as breathing and a part of their lives forever:
Talking to Them about Why We Give
We can start talking to our children about why it is important to give by the time they are three or four. This is the age when they are beginning to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that other people have feelings and value, and that everyone deserves respect. Now is the time, as children learn empathy, to introduce the necessity of giving to them. Keeping it simple allows them to grasp the idea better. We can do so by gradually making them aware that some children have less than they have; that some elderly people are alone; and that some members of the community, like the police, firefighters, and members of the armed forces, help keep us safe every day and deserve our thanks.
Setting the Example of Giving
We all have charities we believe in that we give to by donating money, participating in events to raise funds for, and giving our time to. However, if we do these things without telling our children we are doing them or without them witnessing our doing them, we are not setting an example they can see. There are many ways to rectify this. Let’s begin telling our children about the charities we support, why they are important to us, why they need our help, and how we assist them. We can also bring our children to a charitable event, such as a run to raise funds for cancer research, and invite them to join us when it is practical or to watch us with another adult when it isn’t. And, we can ask for their assistance making food for a bake sale or donating clothes they have outgrown for a rummage sale.
Providing Them with the Opportunity to Give
To help our children begin giving, we must start by giving them the ability to do so. A family giving box is an easy tangible way to involve everyone in giving. After the giving box has been agreed upon by the family, it can be decided how each member will contribute to it, and how often, and how the money collected will be spent. Children will be excited to participate in this venture knowing they have donated some of their hard-earned money to it and knowing it will be going to a cause they care about. Having a specific giving box for different holidays may even heighten the sense of excitement.
Tailoring Giving to Reflect Their Interests
Children will feel even more connected to the concept of giving when they give to causes that reflect their interests. Children involved in arts or sports programs can be encouraged to keep their own giving box so that they can donate to a scholarship that gives another child the opportunity to participate in a similar program. Children who love to read can be encouraged to donate to a literacy organization; donate and help deliver their gently used books to a book drive, the school library, or the public library; or join a school program that helps others learn to read. If they care about the environment, we can encourage them to become involved in community “green” programs, and, if they are concerned about the welfare of the elderly, we can encourage them to get involved with initiatives that reach out to shut-ins and nursing homes.
Turning Giving to Ourselves into Giving to Others
The birthday parties we throw for our children are happy times that celebrate the day they came into our lives. Our children receive loving attention and gifts that show them how important they are to us. As well as making a child’s birthday about them, we can encourage them to think of others on the same day. By involving our children, we can come up with a plan for turning the birthday party into an opportunity to help someone else. One way, is to ask each guest to bring a book, which will be donated to a worthy cause in their name. Another is to have our children use some of their own money to purchase a small item, or make something, that will go into their guests’ treat bags. Following through with our children by telling them how proud we are for sharing their special day with others will fill them with pride and a sense of accomplishment.
Children who are inspired to give learn they are part of a community and that they, themselves, are an important piece of it. They come to understand, too, that the community they give to, and are part of, can be as large as they want it to be. When giving becomes natural, it becomes an integral part of our children’s lives and something they will continue to do instinctively as adults without the need for reward.