Teaching Giving to Your Children

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

In his wonderful book Soul of a Citizen, Paul Loeb writes that children who teach younger children, write letters to people in the hospital, or make toys for poor kids are much more open to helping people in need when they grow up than those who don’t share such experiences. It’s no surprise. Children who are taught to care become caring adults.

Adults must make a special commitment to teach children compassion through stories, actions, and mentoring.

Actions are a powerful teacher. Every day, in many ways, you have the ability to develop a culture of giving in your home, one that can be a lifelong gift to your children. Giving your children an allowance is a good way to foster giving. Consider getting them to break their allowance into three portions, say 80 percent for spending, 10 percent for saving, and 10 percent for giving. The percentages can vary, but allocating their allowance to these three areas will help teach money-management skills to your children. This is an incredibly valuable gift.

Allow your children to decide where they want to give their “giving” money, even if you disagree with their choice. Giving them the decision empowers them, and it gives them a strong emotional connection to their philanthropic gift.

You can reinforce their giving by telling them how much it means to you, as well as to those who were helped. Telling children about your own giving and how you feel about sharing what you have is great role-modeling. You will pass on your tradition of giving to them, and as they grow, they’ll see that the gift of giving also gives back. They will likely pass it on to their children, too.

By encouraging your children to give, you help them engage in civic life. That strengthens democracy and fights the cynicism so pervasive in our society — especially in the media. You will also teach children to care for other people, even people they may never meet, or to care for animals and nature.

Giving, in its many forms, helps develop understanding and compassion in children and encourages their desire to learn much more about an issue that touches them emotionally. This might lead to their developing many useful skills, such as research, writing, and an understanding of their values and motivations.

We never know how our childhood experiences will affect our lives. When we help our children have positive experiences of generosity, we may be setting them on a path where they blossom as compassionate and fulfilled individuals. Some other ways to teach your children giving include the following actions:

• Model generosity to friends and strangers.
• Participate in community organizations and tell your children why you think this is important.
• Discuss responsibility and the golden rule with your children.
• Ask them to set aside 10 percent of their allowance for giving. Then match their gift so it is doubled.
• Make your children aware of their position in a global context. The chances are pretty good that if you can read this book, your children have way more resources than at least 70 percent of the children in the world.
• Find out what your children care about, and volunteer your time in this area as well as the areas you are interested in.

(Excerpts from the book, ‘The Power of Giving’ by Azim Jamal & Harvey McKinnon)

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