It can be hard for children to understand the amazing importance of giving to others, especially at Christmas time. At 5 years of age, my daughter has understandably been swept away by the exciting dream of what she is going to get from Santa Claus. The consumer fever and marketing of today only adds to the frenzy.
How can parents help their child understand, enjoy and actively participate in charities? After all, charitable giving is totally different than the concept of sharing where the child understands that they will eventually get something in return. The good news is that children get the same powerful emotion of joy and inspiration that adults get when they help others. So much so, that the gift of giving can become a habit, not just a once a year activity.
For my daughter, my wife and I have focused on four key elements:
Actions speak louder than words
Children look at their parents actions more than anything to learn what to do and how to do it. If I write a check to make a donation, my daughter will not fully appreciate the act. It is the same as writing a check at the grocery store. I recommend taking action together as a family. Earlier this year, our family volunteered to help with the ice skating competition for the regional Special Olympics. My daughter helped me serve lunch for the athletes and later got to cheer on the speed skaters while my wife timed them.
Help other children
As much as they look up to you as parents, children know what it is like to be a kid. They want other kids to be happy and take a special interest when they can help a fellow kid. Donate to a toy or clothing drive that is specifically for a childrenâ€™s organization. Ask your child to choose a toy or clothes that he or she no longer uses (donâ€™t do it for them). Then, take them with you when you drop off the items. My daughter just did this with her collection of books for a program run by our public library.
Projects lead to great achievements
Children love activities and they love to work toward a goal. One of my favorites is a program at our local YMCA called the 12 Days of Fitness. Any member who swims or works out twelve times in December and brings in at least two food items for the food bank is entered into a drawing. What my daughter loves more than the chance at a prize is that she gets a sticker to track her progress on a board posted in the lobby. Everybody wins with this program.
Reinforce by having them come up with the idea
My ultimate goal is to build charitable giving as a habit, just like reading or riding a bike. The best way that I can help is by not doing it all for my daughter, even if it is tempting sometimes. To help me write this post, my family brainstormed and researched some other fun ways to give back to the community. Here is a list of additional projects and ideas that we liked:
- Ask your local Humane Society or shelter if you can help walk dogs or feed smaller animals.
- Pick out an extra item to donate to the local food bank every time you go grocery shopping.
- Bake cookies for the homeless shelter.
- Rake the leaves, pull weeds, or help plant a flower garden for elderly people in your neighborhood.
- Start a charity donation jar and put in part of the weekly allowance (or paycheck for me).
- Also, we just ordered The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin. We look forward to getting more fun projects and charitable programs from reading it.
My wife and I are really just starting to teach our daughter how important it is to help others. She is doing great so far. We look forward to doing even more for charities and the community in 2008. If you have other ideas for children or stories about charitable giving that you have done, please add a comment.