Teaching the Value of Giving

Robert Swank, The Commerce Trust Company

Giving, as any philanthropist will tell you, gets in your blood. It makes you realize that you can make a difference in the world. Helping others, they'll tell you, just feels good. It’s not “just” money.

But the value of giving can be a difficult lesson to teach, especially when children are bombarded with messages about the joy of receiving. It's up to parents to introduce the concept of philanthropy to their children, letting them see its impact and start their leadership role early. Here are some ways to do it:

Start early. You're almost never too young to start giving. Young children may enjoy dropping coins in a collection basket, decorating cookies for a bake sale, or sharing toys they've outgrown with those less fortunate. But don't be surprised if, when the time comes for them to part with their gift, they have second thoughts. Plan ahead, for example, by baking enough cookies so they get one, too. Young children need help learning how to share.

Let them choose a cause. You may think donating to cancer research is important, but a child who loves animals may be more interested in finding a home for stray dogs. Rather than dictating the charities your family supports, help them find causes they can relate to. Visit websites or take them to a local charity so they can learn firsthand where their gift is going and imagine those who will benefit from it.

Require them to donate their own money. Children need to experience personally how it feels to give rather than receive. That's why it's important for them to donate their own funds. Some parents ask their kids to set aside part of their allowance for giving. Others create a jar where family members can deposit their change. When the jar is full, they decide together on the charity to receive it.

Lead by example. Children learn what they are taught and mimic what they see. The key to raising charitable children, therefore, is to be charitable parents. The problem is, children aren't usually watching when you write a check or attend a charity event. You will make a greater impression if they can see you delivering canned goods to a food bank or preparing a meal for a sick relative. Better yet, volunteer as a family, whether raking leaves for an elderly neighbor or raising money for victims of a natural disaster.

Encourage them to get involved. As children get older, they can take more active roles in the causes they support. Whether volunteering in a summer camp for disadvantaged kids or participating in fund-raising walks, there are ways they can make a difference. Help them understand that we all have a duty to work for the common good.

Giving feels good, especially when it produces responsible adults who want to make the world a better place. It’s not only our responsibility to give back to the community, but to also teach our future leaders of its importance. iBi

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