Susan and Jeff* vowed this Christmas season would be different. Instead of their three elementary-age children being consumed with all the toys they wanted, Susan and Jeff wanted more focus on giving. Dad decided to engage the boys in baking some cookies for neighbors and friends. Before it was all said and done, mom and daughter also got involved.
“Not only did we have fun baking the cookies - the kids really had a good time visiting some of our older widow friends and neighbors,” says Jeff. “Additionally, we did some Secret Santa gifts for some friends who have experienced significant losses this past year. This gave us the opportunity to have a conversation about the importance of giving to others versus only focusing on ourselves. Our intent was not to bring attention to our family, but to teach our children that it isn’t about doing something so you get the credit for it, but what it feels like to bless others.” (Which is why they asked me not to use their real names.)
Carol Weisman, author of “Raising Charitable Children,” believes that children today are inundated with messages about being consumers and wanting for themselves rather than giving of themselves.
“Putting a cellphone in their pocket and the ‘right’ shoes on their feet will never provide the long-term happiness fix children crave," says Weisman. “We talk to kids about money all the time, like how much we are willing to pay for a prom dress or what we just spent on those braces, yet we won’t talk with them about how we give, how much we give and what we value,” Weisman says. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
What is the right age to introduce your children to charitable giving? Weisman says that even at age 3 or 4, children can begin to grasp giving and caring for others.
“Whether you have a lot of money to give or you are operating off of a shoestring budget, there are lots of creative ways to teach children about giving,” Weisman asserts.
Here’s how you can begin teaching your children the importance of generosity:
Asking questions like, "What did you enjoy doing this past year?" or "What makes you happy?" can help guide your children to make a donation toward something meaningful to them. For example, if they like watching Sesame Street, you can help them donate to PBS so other children can watch it, too.
Volunteer time with organizations that interest your family. Being able to see what money supports firsthand is helpful in making decisions.
Have family meetings so everyone can have input about what charities to support. Try using Monopoly money as a visual aid while you make decisions.
Perhaps you know someone who is alone this Christmas or facing an especially difficult time. Maybe you could brighten their day with an unexpected visit or baked goodie. Even if you don’t have time to do something this Christmas season, any time is a good time to teach your children the meaning of generosity.