Helping others is a fundamental ingredient of building shared values, which creates vibrant communities, strengthening bonds both locally and around the world. As adults, we often think of “giving back” as donating money to charitable causes that are personally meaningful. But how does this work for children? By going back to basics – thinking of others less fortunate than ourselves and learning to share. Developing a lifetime habit of giving in children means thinking of many different ways to give to establish these basics.
To help you get started, we’ve created a short guide by age grouping of activities which will help instill the fundamentals of giving back, while also having fun and feeling great.
If your child(ren) is in this age category, you can still start to instill important values about giving.
Model giving behaviour – your own example is the most likely to rub off on the child. Let your child see you being generous with others – and not just them!
Catch them in the act – all children have natural impulses to be generous and kind. When you see your child displaying this behaviour,
Talk about sharing – It’s part of normal socialization anyway, but you can reinforce giving by teaching your child about sharing with others and being shared with. When you or s/he shares, point it out. When someone else shares with them, ditto. Sharing makes everyone feel good.
Children of these ages are aware of and capable of more than you think. During these years, help your child develop awareness, understand the needs in their world and the expectation that everyone make a personal contribution.
Listen for Causes that Resonate – At these ages, children start to become aware of the world around them outside of their family. They will respond to images they see, discussions they hear, opportunities that are presented. Watch for what resonates with your child: is it animal welfare, homeless people, sick children, international refugees, environmental crises?
Don’t dismiss their urge to contribute – Learning that others aren’t as fortunate as they are is a hard lesson for kids and it makes them feel bad. Don’t “protect” them from that exposure. Instead, help them turn that bad feeling into positive action by finding a way to contribute. Let them give a quarter to a homeless person or a nickel to the box for Ronald McDonald house. Let them help an elderly neighbour by picking things up from their front yard or helping take their garbage to the curb. Help them turn their concern about global warming into practising Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Find Opportunities – Children like the good feeling that comes from making the world a better place. And there are opportunities all around them for that. They can participate in a walk-a-thon or read-a-thon, donate their clothes or toys to a refugee centre or women’s shelter, or take part in a park clean up.
Introduce the concept of giving money – If your child gets an allowance, consider introducing the discipline of “three pots” of money – one for self, one for savings and one for giving. Talk about that with them and let them see the balance in their own bank account (or piggy bank) as well as the chink of cash going into the Humane Society box. The older child may wish to “cruise” our portal with you to pick a charity they would like to support.
Engage the Grandparents – Your child(ren)’s grand-parents are perfect candidates for modeling giving behaviour and for reinforcing good behaviour they see in their grandchildren. Ask them to try to do that.
Emerging teens are starting to define themselves independent of their parents. They are starting to notice what’s right and wrong with our society and the world around them. They care about their peers and are greatly influenced by teachers, friends and what they see on the internet. But they still care what you think.
Support any and all charitable initiatives – The important things at this age are those initiated by themselves or their peers. Support your pre-teen in undertaking bottle drives, awareness campaigns, runs for charity, whatever your kid thinks is important. Can you help connect them to a knowledgeable or influential person related to their cause? Drive them to the location where groups are cleaning up a park or planting trees? Sponsor them and/or their friends on a Ride to Conquer Cancer or Terry Fox Walk-a-thon. Even though your child is now starting to think and act on their own, having open communication is still important. You can help them understand more fully how their financial and personal contributions both help others and build the fabric of our society. Ask their advice as to the right organization for you to donate to that supports their cause(s).
Encourage their interest in joining social clubs – Social clubs are often the place where awareness of others in need can mature into helping them. Schools, churches/temples, the Y, Rotary, Lions, Knights of Columbus can either welcome your pre-teen or point them to a club or project they can get involved in. Social clubs build strong communities, make a contribution to our world and widen the social circles of those youth who get involved in them.
Help to build awareness – share local, regional and international news items with your pre-teen, helping them to develop a sense of world citizenship. Or get excited about a project in your own community such as sponsoring a refugee family, reclaiming an old run-down graveyard, advocating over single-use plastics. Ask questions about what the school may be doing to help others. Ask questions about how you can help the school. Take a family day to go work in a Food Bank. Wonder aloud about prejudice, racism, global warming, homelessness, mental health.
Introduce them to the family foundation – If they weren’t already aware, this is a good age to let your child(ren) know that our family regularly gives money to all kinds of causes and that if they are members, they have the right every year to nominate a charity that’s important to them for funds from the foundation. To donate in their own right is also a good habit to build at this age and that is why we have a $1 membership option. But to activate this, your child will need a bank account or a PalPal account – while this is often a good age to introduce personal financial management, if you are uncomfortable with this idea, you can support them with your own bank account, credit card or PayPal account. At this age, they are old enough to give their own money, but you can be the vehicle for them. Don’t forget that the foundation’s web-site has interesting articles on family members and history.
By the time your child(ren) reach their late teen years, they are in the final stages of emerging as adults in their own right. Your job at this stage is definitely back stage, helping where you can, enhancing their appreciation, listening, and continuing to model giving behaviour.
Help underline the crucial role of money - If they have been involved with any causes at all, they will have come to understand that what charities need most is money. Charities generally have the knowledge, skills and dedication to activate on their organization’s central purpose, but lack the funds. Through casual conversation, you can point out this fact to drive it home.
Encourage research – To make a difference, people have to have more than a big heart. They need to put their ingenuity, time and money in the right places. Now that your teen is starting to define who they are as adults, help them understand that an adult approach to giving involves understanding their cause deeply and also understanding where their time and money can make the most difference. Which are the best organizations for them to support? The best projects? Why? This work will help hone their critical thinking and analytical skills. Perhaps you can refer them to Charity Intelligence, an organization that assesses non-profits along many different dimensions as to how effective they are.
Continue to encourage participation in social clubs – Social clubs independent of their schools will help teens carry their giving instincts into adulthood. Social clubs will help them associate with like-minded individuals. They give exposure to meaningful activities that help others. They provide volunteer opportunities that can draw on their particular talents and teach team skills … as well as experience that looks pretty good on a resume.
Better yet, help them create their own club or project – Initiatives from this age group can be very powerful as well as inspirational to others. Think of Greta Thunberg, William Cabaniss, Haile Thomas, Sydney Gutiérrez, and Autumn Peltaier. Teens can start Go-Fund-Me projects for people or communities in need. They can mobilize their friends to help on a cause they believe in, though volunteering their time and skills or through fund-raising.
Magnify their impact – Our family foundation can help with that. As long as they are members, your teen(s) can nominate a favourite registered charity, recommend that charity to other donating family members and request that their charity be added to our donation portal. AND if they’re looking for volunteer opportunities, we are also available for that.