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. CharityGiftCertificates.org 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.
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.