10 Tips to Help Parents Plant the Philanthropy Seed
The Season for Giving
During the holidays, many Americans are preoccupied with turkeys, parades and last minute stocking stuffer sales. It seems that over time the holidays have become more about getting things — whether that’s food, entertainment or bargains — than about giving thanks for what we already have. If you’re like most parents, you don’t want your kids to grow up focused solely on themselves, concerned only with the latest video game or how they can get their way. You want them to feel genuine gratitude for the blessings they have and to demonstrate thought and concern for others.
According to “self-help” author Todd Patkin, there’s no better time than the holidays to help your kids become less me-focused and more thoughtful.
“In general, I don’t believe that kids act selfishly because they genuinely don’t care about others — it’s more that they aren’t really sure how to help others and give back, because they aren’t being taught,” asserts Patkin, author of “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and Finally Let the Sunshine In.”
“Ultimately, raising children who understand the value of giving back — and whose lives reflect that knowledge — is one of the most philanthropically minded things parents can do, and this holiday provides the perfect opportunity,” Patkin says.
Ready to help your child take the first steps from selfishness to selflessness? Then read on for 10 ways that parents can get their children geared up for giving back:
1. Explain philanthropy to your kids. Before you and your kids get into the proverbial trenches, it’s important to first help them realize that giving back doesn’t just mean donating money, and that generosity is not limited to giving away things you no longer want. Explain the charity work you do to your child. Tell her why you do it and who it helps, and help her understand what’s going on. The more questions your child has (and you answer), the better grasp she’ll have on the concept.
2. It’s never too early to start (don’t wait until your kids are “old enough”). Empathy is a concept that children can learn at a very early age, so look for and take advantage of teachable moments. Start with something as basic as encouraging small children to share with one another. Once your kids get a little older, they can donate a portion of their holiday or birthday money to a charity, or they can choose a toy or round up school supplies to donate to children in need. This year, you might even volunteer to work at a soup kitchen before or after your own holiday meal.
3. Make it a part of everyday life. You don’t need to possess unlimited time or money to get involved — you can find smaller, simpler ways to make helping others a part of your everyday routine. The next time you’re grocery shopping with your children, for example, buy some extra canned goods and drop them off at a food bank on the way home. Then encourage your kids to be giving during their own everyday tasks, whether that means sharing art supplies or helping to clean up.
4. Get kids involved in the process. The more you let your children become involved in the philanthropy process, the more they’ll be invested in what you’re doing. Bring your kids in from the beginning by allowing them to help choose which organizations the family volunteers for or donates to. They’ll feel more connected to the cause, and the youngest members can be involved, even if it just means tagging along.
5. Reinforce the value of a random act of kindness. Giving back is not always about a charity organization, a monetary donation or volunteering — in other words, things you schedule. Show your kids that helping someone else and not expecting anything in return can happen anytime, anywhere.
6. Understand (and explain) that philanthropy is not one-size-fits-all. It’s important to tailor philanthropic work to a child’s personality and interests. For example, you wouldn’t take your daughter to the animal helter if she were afraid of dogs. Talk with her about how different people and situations have different needs. Some might want a hot meal, for example, while others may want someone to listen to their problems. Some places need clothes while others benefit more from monetary donations, and so on. Help her to understand why it’s important for her to match her talents, passions and beliefs to these needs.
7. There’s no substitute for real-world experience. Encouraging your kids to earmark a percentage of their allowances or to donate some of their lesser-used toys to charity is a good start, but don’t stop there. If your children can see where their donations are going and how they’re actually helping others, the giving experience will be much more real. Consider taking a family trip to visit recipient organizations so that your children can see where the money goes.
8. Make it a family affair. When you give back as a family, your kids will see mom and dad as role models. Bonus: You’ll all grow closer to each other because of this shared experience. Commit as a family to spend two days per month working with a charity or doing something to help others — even if that just means helping out elderly neighbors or volunteering at the church yard sale. You might also work together to raise money for a walk, fundraiser or other project, then walk together on race day, or go together as a family to present the money you’ve raised.
9. Help your kids to focus on how good it feels to give back. Everyone likes to feel good, and kids are certainly no exception! When they feel good about something, they will want to do it again. In fact, that good feeling will be the impetus that keeps your kids motivated to continue helping others even after you’ve relinquished oversight of their daily schedules. Help them to focus on how fulfilled they are when they are doing something to help others.
10. Make sure that your expectations are realistic. At the end of the day, kids are still kids. You can’t expect them to always want to donate their toys or to be able to sit still and pay attention through every single event or presentation. Be conscious of your children’s ages and capabilities, and (without being too quick to exclude them from an activity or event that might not be “fun” from start to finish) keep in mind that your budding philanthropists are still kids.