Charities – Teaching Kids to Give

We all want our kids to grow up with a generous spirit and the desire to change the world. Generous kids, however, are two words rarely used together. Believe it or not, young children can be very generous though. When shown a need they are often willing to give all they have to help. So what is it that happens between the 3 year old that wants to empty his piggy bank to help orphans in Ecuador, and the 16 year old that can’t spare a dollar to help a friend buy lunch? The answer may have more to do with what doesn’t happen then with what does.

Kids ultimately do what they see.  Are you willing to give?
Kids ultimately do what they see. Are you willing to give?

Understanding a Child:

Lets start by looking at what is going on in your child’s mind. Younger children are more apt to give partly because they do not fully understand the abstract concept of money. They tend to relate value to feelings. As children, they look to adults to be able to make them feel better if they are sick, feed them if they are hungry, or fix a broken toy when sad. When they hear of a hungry child or an orphan in need of clothing, they place value on the child's feelings and what to "fix" it. After all, that is what Mommy or Daddy would do for them. Wouldn't it be nice if adults did this a little more often?

On the flip side, the 16 year old has learned the value of money. The question is: what has she learned? Has money been taught as a way to satisfy her own selfish desires? In this case, giving the dollar to a friend is seen as a waste as it gains her nothing. Alternatively, has she learned that it is a tool to be used to influence and impact the world around her? This understanding might prompt her to give the dollar to strengthen her friendship or even make a new one. These apposing views drastically change how a person will use money.

Being the Example:

Like it or not, most kids will inherit their understanding of money from their parents. This means that the example we as parents set is very important to our kids. If you are curious, think back to how your parents handled money. Are you similar in your use of money and charitable giving? Most of us are. If we want our kids to grow up knowing how to be generous with their giving then they need to see us being generous. They need to know what charities we support and why. They need to see how we balance our needs with others. Most importantly, they need to see generosity embraced as a way of life, not just an afterthought. In other words, which has the most value, people or money?

Connecting with a Need:

As important as setting an example is, most people will not give unless they understand the need. This is true with children as well. As parents, we need to help our children see and understand the needs around them. Even at a young age kids can understand being hungry, needing clothes or shoes, or losing possessions. The effort is in helping them connect with these needs. To help them, try one of these ideas, or come up with your own:

  • Skip a meal and take a field trip to the local soup kitchen. Allow them to experience hunger and see how the generosity of others help feed those in need. You may even be able to help serve in the kitchen.
  • Take the kids grocery shopping to buy meals for an unknown family and drop the food off at your local food pantry on the way home. Encourage them to ask questions and to learn how many kids receive assistance from the pantry.
  • Take the family on an outing in winter without their coats. Discuss how it would be to always be cold. Stop by a store (Goodwill is good for this) and buy a coat or two to drop off at the local Salvation Army or United Way.
  • Spend a night in the car (or let them) then visit a local shelter. Take some time to find out the largest needs or needs they relate to. Then plan a way to help.
  • Spend an evening at your local animal shelter. Most will let you play with the animals and tell the stories of why each is there. Shelters are also a great place to volunteer.

The possibilities here are endless. The goal is to help your kids personally relate to the needs of others. Most of us have so much. We find it hard to understand how someone could be hungry, cold, or even homeless. Kids need to be shown that not only do these needs exist, but that they can help meet them.

Getting them Involved:

The easiest way to leave a legacy of generosity is to involve your children at an early age. Once your kids are old enough to receive or earn an allowance, have the expectation that a percentage of their earnings will be set aside for a charity. This will help them learn early on that you can balance giving with saving and spending. It is much easier to set aside money to give up front then to try and find money to give later. The earlier is lesson is learned the better.

Teching a child to give is as important as teaching them how to save!
Teching a child to give is as important as teaching them how to save!

It is important to take some time with each child and find out how they would like to use their charitable giving. Don’t simply take their money and have it disappear into the family's charitable giving. Again, make it personal for them. One may wish to support the local food pantry from the above field trip. One may wish to support the animal shelter. One may even desire to get involve in an international charity. The key is to have them involved in something they are interested in and care about.

You can also combine your example with their involvement. Consider choosing a larger charity project to undertake as a family. You fund the majority of it through the family charitable giving budget and have the kids fund their part. This allows them to be involved in something larger while also giving them the opportunity to support a local organization as well. It is also a great lesson in what people can do when they join together and pool resources for a common goal. Who knows, it may even strengthen your family as you discuss the charity and have regular updates.

If you need some ideas to get started, the links below are what I like to call "interactive charities". This simply means that there is interaction between the recipient and the giver. This provides opportunities for relationships to form as well as a greater sense of effectiveness. Some of these have dedicated kids sites to help them understand the needs through games and age appropriate interactions. Others, such as World Vision, provide an easy way to write letters or send and receive photos from sponsored children or families.

There is no guarantee in finances or raising a child.  Hopefully these ideas will help you introduce your kids to the true joy of giving.  It is true that, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”  With a little direction from you, your kids can understand this and start a life filled with the joys of generosity.  They may even help change the world.  You never know.

Comments 6 comments

RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

fantastic article!!

PhilD41 profile image

PhilD41 7 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks RNMSN! It was easy to write, harder to do. My oldest is only 3 though. Still, we already do many of these ideas.

Kimmie 7 years ago

Good job sweetie!

Luciendasky profile image

Luciendasky 7 years ago from Florence, OR

This is very good! When I have kids... I will follow this to the letter!

cashmere profile image

cashmere 7 years ago from India

Wonderful ideas. Love the list of things you suggest to do with the kids. Skip a meal may not work too well in may case though, my kid never wants to eat anyway!

mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 7 years ago

Great tips. We sometimes forget that children learn best by experience and role modeling. Do as I say doesn't cut it, if it isn't what you do as well. Beyond charitable giving, I think of the many children that don't learn anything about giving in general. For instance, when parents say that Christmas is all about the kids and giving them everything they want. I was taught that it was a time to give. I didn't have much money, but I made presents for family. I thought that it was about giving, not just receiving. I always wonder at what age they will be taught this.

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