Teaching kids to be charitable shouldn’t be reserved just for the holidays. Instead, you can instill philanthropic values all year-round, starting as early as ages three or four and continuing through the teen years (when kids are notoriously more in the “gimmee” stage).
In fact, it's actually good for kids of all ages.
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“It's actually been proven scientifically that giving increases self-esteem and self-confidence,” says Nancy Phillips, founder and president of DollarSmartKids Enterprises, Inc. and creator of Zela Wela kids books. “By witnessing their ability to help others locally or globally, kids realize they have the power to make a positive difference.”
Here are some tips to help you raise do-gooders, starting today:
1. Start at the right age.
Kids are natural givers, says Phillips, so start teaching them about charitable donations between the ages of three and five. “They are very generous in their formative years, so that’s the perfect time to start teaching them that giving comes first," she says. Even before they're old enough for an allowance, parents can discuss how money can be used to help others.
Even older kids can be taught new habits, says Phillips. Think about generous acts you can do as a family, like volunteer trips, Habitat for Humanity and soup kitchens. “Teens still have the majority of their lives ahead of them, so these things can be so impactful," she says.
2. Get the right tools.
“Teach your child about the benefit of saving for themselves, but consider a different piggy bank for giving to others,” recommends Cathy Pareto, President of Cathy Pareto & Associates. Sites like Tykoon help kids put money toward saving, spending and sharing. There are also many ways to DIY a three-part piggy bank.
Other great teaching tools include charity-focused books and websites. “Read them stories about giving and sharing, and make them aware of young kids doing amazing work in their own community,” adds Pareto. And don’t forget the simple act of giving when cleaning out closets. Ask them whom they might like to donate their old clothes or toys to and why.
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3. Check out after-school programs that give back.
When evaluating after-school programs or summer camps, look for ones that have a “give-back” component to help reinforce the value and importance of charity. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are a great example where kids learn to serve others. “They realize that giving back is part of our world if they see good things going on around them,” says Phillips. Not only that, but this creates positive peer-pressure and inspires kids to want to be around others who are also doing good in the world.
4. Model good behavior.
As with many things in life, actions speak louder than words. “This is just as true and applicable with parents setting good charitable examples to their children,” says Pareto. Meaning, moms and dads who take an interest and donate to charities will undoubtedly inspire their kids to do the same. On the same note, when you give money, share this news with your kids, and be sure to include them in the decision-making for your 'giving budget,' she advises.
"The best way to get kids to donate money to charity is for them to feel connected to a mission."
5. Let them choose the cause.
The best way to get kids to donate some of their money to charity is for them to feel connected to a mission and have "buy in" for their cause of choice, says Pareto.
By making it interesting and fun for them to choose a charity, parents can see a child’s interests and passions emerge. And don’t forget about showing them the results of their good deeds. “Encourage kids to follow up on their charities and interview some of the local decision-makers about their initiatives and accomplishments,” says Pareto. This will give them a sense of accomplishment about the money they gave and how it’s being used.
6. Talk about the value of giving.
Make philanthropy a general part of ongoing discussions around your house. At the dinner table, for example, is a perfect time to talk about the need to help others in the news and people who are doing good in the world. In fact, according to one study, teenagers report that their parents are the biggest influence on whether they give to nonprofit groups. One third of teens who give often said their parents explained how their actions can help others, and 21% said their parents discussed the value of volunteering and philanthropy. Meanwhile, just 7% of teenagers who give less often said their parents explained those concepts.
7. Remember the goal.
Above all, keep in mind that it’s not necessarily how much money kids give that counts—it’s inspiring them to want to give at all. “Charitable children hopefully grow into charitable adults,” says Pareto. “Surely, society could benefit from more of them.”