Encouraging generosity

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have always been actively involved in worthwhile causes and regularly volunteer at an organization that helps disadvantaged people in our community. Our children are now eight and ten. Is it too early to teach them the importance of generosity, and how do we do it?

A: Congrats to both of you for not only choosing to be part of such a worthwhile cause, but also for wanting to grow the spirit of generosity in your children. Communities all across America need more people like you, especially since many of them don’t have enough funding to help those in need.

The simple answer to your question is that it’s never too early (or too late, for that matter) to teach your children about altruism and to lay the groundwork for a lifetime commitment to helping less fortunate than themselves. This is particularly important since they live in a “me” centered society, where far too many people put their own needs ahead of others’, or ignore other people’s misfortunes altogether.

The fact that you’re already involved in community outreach sets a great example for your kids. They probably already know what you do and may have been asking you questions about it. If not, this is a good time to start telling them about what you’re doing and why. And, whenever it’s appropriate, take them along with you so they can see first-hand what a big difference your volunteer work is making in other people’s lives.

Ask the people you volunteer with whether there are any functions your kids could perform in your organization. For example, they might be able to help you deliver food to needy families, or wrap holiday gifs for other children. If they’re too young for that, perhaps the can set the table at a soup kitchen. There’s bound to be an age-appropriate way to get them involved.

Of course, generosity starts in your own home, so encourage your children to choose toys and books they’d like to donate to disadvantaged children. Also, sit down together and have them designate a portion of their allowance—10 percent is a good number—to give away to the cause. That can be hard for some kids, but if you agree to contribute a dollar for every 25 cents they contribute (or whatever your budget will allow), you’ll help them over the hump. Afterwards, show them how their money was spent – on groceries, clothes, or whatever the case may be.

You might also ask them to come up with their own ways to raise money. Kids can be creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, and their ideas might go beyond lemonade stands or car washes. Be sure to praise them for any viable money-making idea, and encourage them to pursue it.

Children who are aware of and responsive to the needs of those around them, will grow into caring and generous adults who will not only be involved in worthwhile causes themselves, but will spread the spirit of generosity to others in the community and the world.

Don’t be surprised though if your kids eventually stray from what’s important to you. As they grow and learn more about the world around them, they’ll probably find their own causes. Children often get interested in championing animal rights, environmental awareness, and charities that benefit other kids. And that’s great. As long as they channel their time and energy into something that makes a positive and meaningful difference in the world, you should encourage and praise them every step of the way.