Seven Ways to Teach Your Children Generosity

During the last Christmas season, Disney’s Club Penguin website allowed children who played its online games to donate their virtual earnings to help the environment, improve children’s health, or assist children in developing countries. Though players could use the coins to purchase virtual items to enhance the games, more than 2.5 million of them chose to donate their virtual money instead, resulting in a real $1 million donation divided among three charities.

This example is only one of many where children proven to be at least as generous as their elders. Even children who have more than their fair shares of personal problems have given their own time and allowances to help others. Through Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Alexandra Scott, a four-year-old cancer patient, raised more than $1 million for cancer research before she died at the age of eight.

We as adults can sometimes squelch our children’s generous hearts in our efforts to teach them to manage money well. So how can we encourage them to continue to give to others while they learn to be financial responsible? Here are a few ideas:

Let them see you give to others

Setting a good example is the best way to teach your children anything. If you want them to be generous but spend all your money on yourself or your own family, they are likely to follow your actions over your words. If you do give but try to keep your donations private, give your children opportunities to see what you’re doing.

Teach them how to give

Talk with them about how you decide how much to give and where to give. Teaching them to evaluate which causes are worthy and to balance giving with saving and spending is more valuable than simply telling them that they should be generous without giving any guidelines.

Volunteer together

Generosity doesn’t always mean financial giving. Helping others, whether by volunteering through a non-profit organization or through personal acts of kindness, is a generous act. Volunteering helps children see that others have needs they can help fill and encourages them to think more of others and less of themselves.

Designate a portion of their allowance to give away

One of the best methods my parents used to teach me money management was to divide my weekly allowance into three parts, to put in three different piggy banks. Each week, I received $1.00 for me, $0.50 to save, and $0.25 for others. The going rate is now a bit higher, but parents can still divide allowances into set amounts for those categories. Let your children decide how to spend the “for others” money, so long as they don’t spend it on themselves.

Give them a gift to give

On a special occasion, give a homemade certificate stating you will make a set donation to the charity of your child’s choice in his or her name. For a more official-looking gift, you can buy a charity gift card that the recipient can spend on a variety of charities. offers a choice of more than 100 charities in twelve different categories — a wide range, but still limited compared to the number of charities that exist. (In addition, giving a homemade certificate will allow your child to choose a local nonprofit; a charity card would go to a national or international cause.)

Help a child who is the same age as your own

At Christmas, choose an angel from a charity tree and let your child select the gift to buy. Alternatively, extend the giving throughout the year by sponsoring a child through Compassion, World Vision, or a similar organization. Letting your children write letters to their sponsored “siblings” will help them appreciate what they have and see those in need as real people, not just vague “children starving in Africa” who would love to have their Brussels sprouts.

Don’t discourage their generous acts

If your child wants to give away his favorite toy or ask for charity donations instead of birthday presents, don’t say no outright. Make sure he understands the sacrifice he’s making, and then let him do it. If he later regrets his choice, encourage him to continue giving to others but suggest some less painful ways to do it.

Show Approval

When you see your children acting generously, be sure to show your approval. Don’t minimize what they do; children may have less to give than adults, but their gifts can make a real difference. Plus, they are forming habits that will continue into adulthood, and their generosity may even encourage you to find more ways to help others!

Image courtesy of Face it.

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10 Responses to Seven Ways to Teach Your Children Generosity

  1. Ann says:

    My daughter always wants to meet the kids wearing her old clothes that we donate. She gets so happy when she grows out of something she loves because someone else will love it, too. In that moment, she’s somebody’s angel, and it’s really something to see.

  2. Moneymonk says:

    Good advice for both children and adults

  3. decon says:

    I know that my views are going to rile some people up, but forcing your kids to be generous can’t be done. Some kids just aren’t generous no matter how much you try. They have their own mind and if they don’t want to be, they won’t. Blaming parents because their kids don’t happen to be generous is placing the blame in the wrong place. Sure, you should try, but there is no guarantee it’s going to work.

  4. marybeth says:

    Sorry Decon, those excuses don’t pass mustard. Kids learn from their parents and if your kids aren’t generous, it’s because they weren’t taught properly when growing up. It’s not an exercise where you try a little and then give up and say it’s their fault. It’s a lifetime of showing by example.

  5. buzymommy says:

    My parents always wanted me to be generous and always forced me to share. I hated it that time and even now I don’t like to give anything to anybody. I work hard, I sacrifise so much to even be able to go to work, miss time with my kids and have to have somebody to watch them. And, honestly, I don’t feel like sharing my hardearned money with somebody who is lazy or doesn’t manage their money properly or doesn’t succrifice cable tv or stuff like that to not to be broke. I don’t want to force or even encorage my kids to share, because I don’t want anybody to take advantage of them by crying how poor and disadvantaged they are. It’ OK to help your immediate family and provide best you can for your kids, but charity, donations, I am sorry, I don’t do that. I sell all my unneeded outgrown stuff on ebay or garage sale, and if there is anything left over I would donate it to a charity that would give me a decent receipt for my tax write-off, since I couldn’t sell the stuff anyways.

  6. James says:

    @busymommy: Let me guess — you’re despondent about Cheney ’08 not working out. Nothing else could explain such a mean-spirited, greedy, and short-term mindset.

    I could explain the work my daughter’s school is doing to help kids in Ghana, but you’d probably shrug it off due to their cable TV habits. Or the work my wife does with a shelter for battered women — surely they could manage their money better and all would be fine.

    Every man for himself? No thanks.

    Wishing you better karma than you’re apparently giving the rest of us!


  7. Horlic says:

    Learn how to share with others is important. We should educate our children from small and make it as habit.

  8. deborah blohm says:

    I loved your simple effective ways of instilling generosity – thank you!

  9. Kimberly says:

    Mary Beth, you are right and wrong. Kids do learn from their parents, but not everything that a parent teaches gets through to the child. I am an extremely giving person. I donate to charity and I am extremely generous to women’s shelters or any other donations for natural disasters that occur. I have tried everything I know to do to teach my daughter about giving. I involve her in the giving process and explain why we are doing it. Still, she is so stingy about giving up a toy collecting dust in the bottom of the toybox. It is not just about learning from parents. There are other issues that keep a child from being generous. I am not a child psychologist, so I don’t know what they are. But blaming parents for everything is very judgmental.

  10. Kimberly says:

    Wow, you are one stingy woman. I guess all the people that have had their houses burn down, hit by a tornado, or other natural disasters fall into your category of help yourself or else? You are a perfect example of what is wrong with the world today. You don’t care about others. I am hard-working, single mom. I have little money to go around. But, I still find enough generosity in my heart to donate clothes to those that just lost everything in wildfires in my area.

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