How Do I Teach My Child to Give Back? 5 Things to Do

How important is it to you that your child understand about giving back to their community? I ran an online poll in a national mom’s group and 95% of the 118 respondents said it was very important to them. The other 5% said it was important but not a top priority. No-one said it was not important. Sounds like these moms know what matters, because in How Do You Teach Kids About Giving? I review some of the research on why the act of generosity itself makes us happier and healthier.

Great! So the next step is practical. How do I teach my child to give back? I’ll go over 5 things you can do to teach your child to give back. But first, let’s take a moment to consider what we believe about giving back?

Photo by Kat Yukawa on UnsplashHow do I teach my child to give back? Source: Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

Early experiences affect us.

When I was young, I watched long commercials about famine in Ethiopia during my Saturday morning cartoons. Images of skeletal children with flies crawling on their faces filled me with a sorrow that has never left me. This was extreme poverty. I always wondered if the well-fed man in the commercial was going to give those kids some food once he was done making the video. I really hoped so, after all the commercials always used words like “compassion” and “the price of a cup of coffee.”

Salma Hayek (mom to Valentina): “When Valentina was not even 1 month old, my aunt [gave me the best advice]: ‘Put her to sleep yourself every night. Sing to her and cradle her in your arms and sit by her side - every night. Because one day you won’t be able to, and it’s going to happen really fast.”

Later my stomach would feel tight and upset and I found it hard to eat. I would hear from my mother what we all did then, “Don’t you know how grateful children in Africa would be for this sandwich? Eat it!” I couldn’t eat because I was distressed by the aspect of dying children. Then I would feel overwhelmed by being confronted with what I believed was my own selfishness for not eating.

I share this because so many people my age had similar experiences. Unfiltered, my child mind interpreted the world as full of endless suffering that was somehow tied to something selfish about me. As I got older, I gave to charity, but I also felt felt anxious about that giving. The guilt that I felt led me to avoid thinking about it.

Guilty giving does help, because it leads to money going where it needs to go. But guilty giving is not generous giving. I wonder if others are like me. Guilty giving drives me to avoid thinking about it until the end of the year, when I frantically put together a giving plan. I try not to read the flyers the charities send me with tales of desperate need, because I feel that I am just never doing enough.

Facts that blew my mind.

When I started reading Factfulness , I was startled to realize that I was out of touch. When I consider world poverty, I think of a world from the 1960s. Apparently, I have been unaware of how the world has changed.
The world is getting better. When it comes to poverty, life expectancy, access to healthcare and education, the world is getting better. A few facts from the book:

Take charge. Children crave limits, which help them understand and manage an often confusing world. Show your love by setting boundaries so your kids can explore and discover their passions safely.

  • World hunger has decreased by 60% since 1970.
  • In 1966 50% of the world lived in extreme poverty. Now it is only 9%.
  • 80% of people in the world have some access to electricity.
  • Worldwide, women get 90% of the years of education men do.
  • 80% of the world’s children have had a least one vaccine.

Most of this is due to the hard work of the people themselves, living their lives all over the world. Charitable giving and aid organizations have lent a hand, but they did not make this happen. What a game-changer to discover that the world has quietly been getting better during my lifetime!

Our efforts to make the world a better place are working!

Back to the kids. How does viewing giving efforts as a drop in the bucket affect the way we teach our kids? Now, how does knowing that the small efforts of individuals all over the world have added up to tremendous progress change the way we teach our kids?

Joyful giving, the kind of giving that comes feels useful, is far better than guilty giving. It becomes fun to think about. It becomes easier to consider give strategically over time, rather than frantically at the end of the year. It becomes part of a happy life, not an obligation.

Show your child how to become a responsible citizen. Find ways to help others all year. Kids gain a sense of self-worth by volunteering in the community.

When we begin to teach our kids about giving back, let’s try to give them an accurate world view. The world is not full of helpless people just waiting for our barely adequate charity. Rather, hard working people are providing for themselves and their families, and our respectful efforts can equip them to do that.

Photo by Roksolana Zasiadko on UnsplashKids love picking animals to donate. Source: Photo by Roksolana Zasiadko on Unsplash

How do I teach my child to give back? 5 Things you can do.

1. Give them an allowance on percentages. One way to teach kids responsibility about money is to teach them about percentages. For instance, they get 70% of their allowance now, 20% goes to savings and 10% goes to charitable giving. When they were little, we made a coin bank shaped like a castle at a paint your own pottery place. Each week they would put the coins that represented 10% of their allowance in the charity castle.

2. Try Microgiving. Share the Meal , an effort of the World Food Programme , allows people to give what they can. There is a great app for smartphones that allows you to give as little as the price of one meal. Give a meal with your kids each time you have a family meal. Or give a pack of meals once a week or once a month. The idea is to get your children involved, and they love to press the donate button. Microgiving is a great way to employ that 10% of your kid’s allowance, because that’s enough a buy a meal.

3. Try Community Development Giving. Kids love the Heifer International catalog. It’s great fun to pick out ducks, cows and water buffalo, and then discuss how this will help a family provide nutrition over time.

4. Local Giving. Everything from dropping off your extra toys and clothes at Good Will or Salvation Army , to donating old coats and school supplies to your school district or the local shelters, to giving to your state’s Reach Out and Read program is the kind of thing that gets kids engaged.

Let them read what they want. Kids who read for pleasure excel academically—not only in language arts but, as recent research from the Institute of Education, in London, found, in math as well. So while you wish he would pick up Dickens, don't make him feel bad about a graphic novel. "A 'junky' series can be good if it gets kids hooked on the habit of reading," says Mary Leonhardt, a former high school English teacher and the author of Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't.

5. Volunteering. With all the camps for kids available, who knew there was service camp? Last summer our kids spent a week packing diapers for women’s shelters or food for Feed My Starving Children . Volunteering as a family is particularly useful because it shows our kids how much we value it. Try helping at a soup kitchen, visiting seniors, or any of the many wonderful volunteer opportunities in most communities. Older kids have shared stories of their experiences as peer mentors with me and how it changed their lives.