Encouraging your child to take an interest in charity from an early age not only benefits which ever worthy cause grabs their attention, but can also play a massive role in boosting their own personal development.
You might think sparking your child’s interest in charity will be difficult; after all, many charities work to try and eradicate problems of an ‘adult’ nature that many think of as being beyond a child’s grasp.
Admittedly, the sense of empathy that leads most adults to make charitable donations depends on them being able to understand the context of other people’s suffering and imagine themselves in such a position. Children can find this difficult, given their limited frame of reference for comprehending the world around them.
However, I’ve always been inspired by children’s keenly developed sense of injustice. As annoying as it is to hear repeated moans of “but it’s not fair!” over trivial issues such as bed times, a child’s natural desire for justice can be used to divert attentions away from selfish concerns, towards the plight of the genuinely needy.
For us to become truly committed to anything it needs to become part of our everyday routine. Children are, naturally, more flexible in their routines than adults. Any parent can tell you how something can be a matter of life and death to a child one week, then completely forgotten about by the next. Having said this, the ideas we pick up as children have the potential to stay with us forever.
Therefore, it is important to try and make giving to charity feel like a normal thing. A great way of doing this is to encourage your child to give a portion of the regular allowance they earn from doing chores to a charity.
In any case, when giving your child an allowance, it can be a good idea to help them draft up a little budget to decide how much they want to spend on small treats and how much they want to save towards something big. You might try and get them to include a good cause in this budget.
This will help prepare them for when they have an adult’s income, not all of which is disposable. Budgeting in this way will also increase your child’s appreciation of money as, even if you aren’t making them work particularly hard for it, they will have to think more carefully about the conundrum attached to all spending, namely, ‘what is most worthy of my cash?’
Business people and economists would call this ‘opportunity cost’, meaning the cost of having to choose one thing over another. Co-creating a budget with your child helps them understand this issue and appreciate their money more. Therefore, giving money away not only becomes a regular part of their lives, they also understand better the value of what it means to give.
You can go one step further than this by making charity a central part of the special occasions your child looks forward to, such as Christmas. It is very easy to work charity into your fun family traditions.
For example, in the run up to Christmas you could set up a routine of clearing the kid’s rooms, picking out old toys that they no longer need and donating them to charity. They’ll associate this with the magic of the season, and, if you remind them that, after all, they’re making room for new toys, they can still see the sacrifice involved as something exciting.
As a parent I’ve found this has a pleasing double effect. For one thing the kids come to understand that there are people out there having a tougher time of it and are pleased to help out truly needy kids. Secondly, as a side effect of this realization they appreciate their own gifts all the more.
As children don’t really have the means to go out and buy gifts for other people and, because they tend to receive so many gifts themselves, it is natural enough that most kids think of Christmas as being all about them. Indeed, it is very hard to resist encouraging this by spoiling your kids and experiencing their innocent joy vicariously. Encouraging them to see the holiday in a bigger context helps them adjust to the idea they are apart of a world that extends beyond their own existence.
Empower Kids to Give
Of course, encouraging kids to do good deeds isn’t all that useful if they don’t understand why it is good. Children pick up their moral sensibility from their parents and, despite the fact that every young child’s favorite phrase is “why?”, they often do not question the ethical code they inherit.
Obviously, this is a good thing to a large extent. Helping a four year old through an existential crisis is a challenge for any parent! However, it is good for a child’s moral development not to simply see ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as arbitrary labels you, or another figure of authority have decided on.
Getting a child to choose which charity they’d like to contribute to is a good of way getting them to realize their own beliefs. Picking a charity will make a child think about what makes a cause worth contributing to, rather than simply chalking it down as a good deed without thinking about it.
Making a gift donation in a child’s name often falls flat as a gesture as, to be honest, most kids would prefer a toy, and, as they had no role in making the decision they don’t feel attached to the cause. However, you can buy gift cards which work like online vouchers and allow kids to donate to charities of their own choosing. Kids often thrive when they feel they have a sense of responsibility and will want to get involved with anything that makes them feel empowered.
Getting Involved in the Community
Charity events offer a good chance for kids to interact with their peers and get involved in the community whilst learning about collaborative efforts. Even something simple like a bake sale will cover these areas whilst being fun, engaging and involving responsibility.
Encourage your children to get involved in, or perhaps even introduce, charitable activities to the social clubs they attend, such as their softball team or dance class. If you to are involved in the club it can provide the kids with a great opportunity to take matters into their own hands. You can consult them on their own fund raising ideas and give them a large role in the organizing of the events. This will allow children to take ownership of their actions.
This is important for children, as without this sense of ownership they will take less sense of fulfillment from their positive actions. It can also one of the factors behind children‘s misbehavior. If children are always simply being told to do the right thing and exactly how to do it, the may have to resort to naughtiness simply for the feeling of having done something for themselves.
Preparing for the Future
In conclusion teaching kids about charity at an early age can help develop a sense of ethics, budgeting, independence, organizational skills and can even be a start to developing a great CV (many colleges look to see how involved candidates have been in extra curricular community services as part of their admissions processes). If it involves events such as sponsored runs charity can even improve your child’s fitness!
Given all these different areas that giving to charity touches on, it really is a great way to help your children become conscientious citizens who, hopefully, will grow up realizing there’s more to philanthropy than tax breaks.
Guest post by Steve Waller