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10 Ways to Raise Generous Kids

Jan 29, 2018 5 min read Mary Giles

Key takeaways

  • Teaching your kids empathy will help make them more compassionate toward others.
  • Kids whose parents talk with them about why they give are 20% more likely to donate to charity.
  • Kids who find a cause they're passionate about are more likely to stay engaged in volunteering.


In 2017, following the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, my then 10-year-old son decided to donate a portion of his savings to relief efforts and make bookmarks to raise additional money for the victims of those tragedies. I felt proud of his generous and can-do spirit. I knew his efforts would support an important cause, and they would teach him critical lessons about helping others in this consumer-driven, me-me-me world.

“It's never too early to start teaching your kids about generosity," says Susan Crites Price, author of Generous Genes: Raising Caring Kids in a Digital Age. “And when you help them find a cause they're passionate about, they're much more likely to stay interested and engaged." I also learned that giving back—of time or money—has the added benefit of making donors both happier and healthier, something researchers call a “helper's high."



Here are 10 ways to encourage compassion and generosity in your kids:


1. Teach empathy

Studies show that kids whose parents help them identify emotions display more concern for others and are more likely to share. As you're reading books together, talk about the emotions the characters are feeling. And help your child understand the effects of her own actions on others. Ask a young child how she thinks it made someone else feel when she shared a toy, for instance (and when she didn't). If an older child squabbles with a friend, ask her to consider the situation from the other person's point of view.


2. Read stories about generosity

In The Rainbow Fish, a beautiful fish gives away its scales so other fish can also be beautiful. In The Quiltmaker's Gift, a quiltmaker teaches a greedy king a lesson about giving. Books like these set an example for kids to follow, says Price, and offer parents an opening to talk about their family values without lecturing. For older kids, Price recommends young adult biographies of social activists, such as Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai.


3. Practice random acts of kindness

With your child, leave drawings or kind notes on a sibling's or a neighbor's door. Send letters or cookies to cousins or friends. Leave encouraging messages in shopping carts. It's a sweet—and fun—way to create a culture of compassion in your family.


4. Explain what you support

Research by the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University found that children whose parents talk with them about where and why they give are 20% more likely to donate to charity than those whose parents simply role-model generosity.

What's more, you should be specific about the benefits of your support, says Debra Mesch, director of the institute. So don't write a check after the kids are in bed, and don't simply say you're donating because "it's the right thing to do." Instead, explain that the money you're contributing to a hospital will help sick kids get better, for example. I also read my favorite charities' newsletters with my son, and we go to their fundraising events together.


5. Develop a habit of giving

Provide your child with an allowance (or let him earn money with chores) and then store the money in containers labeled Save, Spend and Give. My son contributes 10% of his allowance to his give jar each week and, when he's amassed about $30, he decides where he wants to donate it. “By letting kids choose a cause they're interested in, it feels more personal and they'll feel more of a connection," says Mesch.


6. Create a donation basket

Each time you go to the grocery store with your child, pick up an extra can of soup or a box of noodles and store them in a bag or a box at home. Once full, donate it to your local food bank or shelter. “If you can, take your child with you when you make the donation," says Price. “That way, they can see the direct impact of their contribution."


7. Make room for new toys

Before holidays and birthdays, encourage your child to donate some of her outgrown but good-condition playthings to kids who don't have as much. Consider purchasing a new item for donation while you're doing your holiday or birthday shopping as well.


8. Plan time for volunteering

Just like other priorities, says Price, schedule volunteering on your calendar to make sure it actually happens, whether that's once a week or once every two months. And remember, volunteering can be as simple as helping an elderly neighbor pull weeds or cleaning up trash in the local park.


9. Be a “generosity coach"

Encourage older kids to get passionate about volunteering by helping them match volunteer opportunities to their talents and interests, says Price. A computer whiz can help teach seniors how to use social media at a community center, for instance. Kids with musical talent can perform in nursing homes, while animal lovers might help out at a shelter.


10. Sign up for more ideas

It's not always easy to find organizations that accept the youngest volunteers. For more ideas, Price recommends volunteermatch.org Opens in new window and doinggoodtogether.org Opens in new window (request their newsletter for regular ideas on how families can help others).

When it comes to encouraging your children's generosity, “Be intentional," says Mesch. “Kids are more likely to become adults who give and volunteer when their parents do." And it's not the amount that matters. Whatever fits into your schedule and your budget, the key to raising caring and compassionate kids is to talk about and role-model your family's values.

Then sit down and block out time on your calendar to make sure you follow through on your commitments.


What you can do next

Look at your family's current charitable activities and identify at least one way to involve your child—whether that's by volunteering, donating or learning more about the needs in your community.


Mary Giles is a former editor of Parenting and FamilyFun magazines. She appears frequently on the Today Show.


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