Giving Back: How to Teach Kids to Give

When you have more than one child, it can seem like your day is filled with negotiations. You’re not only trying to get them to do what you need them to do — put on clothes, pee in the right places — but you’re trying to teach them to be kind and decent humans to each other. That means sharing space and toys. Kids want what they want when they want it — and sometimes only if someone else has it — so I spend a good chunk of time refereeing and trying to assure them that if someone else is playing with something it doesn’t mean they’ll never see it again and that they’ll get it back when it’s their turn. And even though some days it seems that all they do is bicker and fight about which toy is theirs, other days they share and trade and solve their problems without my intervention. Those days feel like success.

I love the idea of giving and sharing in the sibling sense, but I also love it in the greater sense, as in giving back to others and the community. The below tips on getting kids involved in giving back come from Jennifer L. Jacobson and Gretchen Barry. Jennifer is the founder of Jacobson Communication and an advocate for organizations looking to make a positive difference in the world. Gretchen is the director of marketing and communications for NonProfitEasy, the all-in-one data management software, created by nonprofits for nonprofits. If you’ve ever wanted to get your kids involved in giving, these are great tips for getting the whole family involved.

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How to Teach Kids to Give

1. Ask them how they’d like to help. Involve your kids as early as possible. Engage them in a conversation about the types of causes they may feel strongly about and ways they think they can help. This could involve helping families, working to save open spaces, caring for nature or a community garden, helping to save an endangered species or helping those in need. Once you’ve made a list, start researching specific local organizations. From public gardens that need weeding, to historic buildings that need painting or food banks that need help, find something age-appropriate that can engage your family. Food kitchens, pet shelters and animal rescues, nature conservation efforts, fundraising for various activities for low-income kids, visitation of patients in hospitals and nursing homes are all good ideas for kids.

2. Find ways to raise money for donations. Hold a yard sale and give all or a portion of it to a selected charity. Do the same with a bake sale, an art sale, etc. Involve your kids at all stages.

3. Associate getting with giving. For birthdays and holidays, aside from their other gifts, give your kids a hand-written gift “certificate of giving” with a specified amount of money that they can gift to their favorite charity. Take your child to the charity to donate that money in person if you can. For non-local organizations, write a check and have your child include a letter.

4. Make donate boxes. Every six to 12 months, have a household closet-cleaning day (that includes the toy chest, and maybe even the garage). Get everyone in the family to help. Put a donate box out where your kids can add to it. Donate often, even if it’s small.

5. Make detours to giving. When shopping, make a trip down the canned foods aisle. Ask your kids to pick a can of food to put in your donate box at home.

6. Growing the mindset. Tell stories. There are lots of real-life stories about kids or groups of kids who have found creative ways to give back. Encourage empathy. Share appropriate stories of struggle. Ask kids, “What would you do in this situation? How would you want people to help you?”

7. Explain why you are doing it and what you’re looking for. “We don’t need to store all this stuff, when someone else could really use it.” Or, “I bet there is a kid out there who would really enjoy playing with that toy. I know you used to love it but how about if you pass it along to someone else, so they can enjoy it as much as you have?” Keep the focus on the people in need and your child’s ability to share an experience through an item. Establishing an impermanent relationship to “things” can help kids better understand the important of relationships over acquiring goods.

8. Develop a language of giving in your household. Find creative opportunities to incorporate it into regular conversation. Nothing is permanent. We are stewards of the planet, and the things we think we own. Everything is in change, and it is our duty to help those in need when we have abundance. If ever there is a time when we are without, we hope that others will think of us and help us. Teaching children about the struggles of others not only develops a lifelong giving mindset, but it also helps children understand how their words and actions impact those around them — a lesson that bears repeating.

A big thanks to Jennifer and Gretchen for these tips. Which is your favorite tip? I love the donate box — beat clutter while helping others! —Erin

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