“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss has always had a way with words, but his honesty in this quote really hits home for me.
As parents, we may think we do a good job being charitable, but what happens when we’re no longer here? It’s not only important that we give back, but that we also instill those values in the next generation. We need to teach the children in our lives the importance of helping others and giving back to the community, so they can grow into compassionate adults.
But where do you even start? I really struggled with this when my now teenage son was young. Looking back, here are the three key pieces of advice I’d recommend to anyone in the same position.
1. Model the behavior you want them to emulate.
Actions speak louder than words. Your children pick up on the examples you set, so it’s important for them to see you expressing gratitude and giving back. As Carol Weisman, author of “Raising Charitable Children” points out, we all have a philosophy toward giving, whether we realize it or not. And because children tend to observe and remember situations differently than adults, it’s imperative that we explain our actions and rationale to them through “teachable moments.”
For instance, one of my family’s favorite traditions is to pick a name off our tree at church during Christmas time for a family in need. We shop for the family together, and it’s always wonderful to see the joy and excitement in my son’s eyes as he helps pick out clothes and toys for the family in need. While we shop, we talk about how fortunate we are as a family, and that it’s our responsibility to help those that are less fortunate. Even though my son is now 13, we still have this tradition.
2. Expose them to different ways to give back.
There are a number of ways to give, from time to talent to money. Help your children see the variety of opportunities available. For example, if your children aren’t interested in individual service projects, encourage them to join groups or give back with friends.
My husband and I are lucky that our son attends a school that encourages philanthropy, and therefore exposes him to a number of volunteer organizations in St. Louis. To find appropriate matches in your area, visit volunteermatch.org.
3. Let them take ownership of their giving.
When children feel like they have a say in their charitable activity, they are more likely to be accountable to it. Encourage your children to consider what charities they’re most passionate about, and support independent involvement as they get older.
As my son grew up, I started letting him decide where and when he wanted to give back, such as putting his own money in the basket at church. Today, he most enjoys sorting donated items for Nurses for Newborns. He loves organizing them so nurses can take them out to the less fortunate families that they visit. He also enjoys going to Food Outreach and preparing food packages for its clients. Although he may be a little resistant to share his time at this age, by the time we leave an outreach opportunity, he asks, “When can we go back?”
As parents, it’s important we look to the future—that of our children as well as the world. The more we help our kids learn the importance of gratitude and giving back, the more we encourage them to grow into adults who “care a whole awful lot.”
This post was written by a member of the Plancorp Women’s Initiative, which strives to advocate for clients and women in the community by addressing topics specific to their financial lives. For more information about the Women’s Initiative and how you can get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Plancorp Women’s Initiative page.