It was a simple gesture, one that really only makes sense for a 6-year-old.
I had asked my son what he’d like to do for the holiday season. I expected to hear “ice skating” or “visit Santa.” Instead, he said this: “I want to give every kid an emoji ball, because they make me so happy.”
I wasn’t completely surprised by his answer. I’ve been talking to him about giving back to the community since he was in diapers. But I was touched by the beautiful thought behind his request, and, in fact, we’re making a trip to a local hospital so his wish can come true and he can actually hand out plush emojis to the children spending the holidays there.
More than anything during this exchange, I was super excited to know that my efforts to raise a selfless child appear to be paying off. Those efforts go back years, as we’ve always emphasized giving as a big part of our family values. (The kids even keep two piggy banks by each of their beds – one to save and one to share.)
I tell my children that our family lives in a bubble that protects us from daily worries about food, shelter and clothing, but through my work with Central Florida Foundation, I’m more aware that those things are challenges that face others in our community.
I’ve seen that our lives are just a series of #firstworld problems, and so, I’m trying my hardest to make sure that my kids know just how blessed they really are – and that blessed people have a big responsibility to support their community and help those less fortunate.
It’s a unique challenge, and here are some of the secrets I’ve learned in trying to raise a child who loves to give–and one who will hopefully grow up to be a lifelong philanthropist.
1. Foster empathy – from the get-go.
At the heart of any true philanthropist is “empathy.”
Just because it’s not seen much it before age four, which is when children first begin to link personal emotions with those of others, your kids are definitely watching and learning from a very young age.
It’s the first step, because there’s no way you can raise a philanthropic child without nurturing empathy.
Do that by talking about feelings: yours, theirs, the babysitter’s, the banker’s, the pool guy’s—you get the picture. When the opportunity arises, make suggestions about ways they can make someone feel better or help solve their problem. (Zero To Three offers more great ideas on how to do this.)
2. Be a role model.
If you want to raise a child who loves to give, be prepared to become a giver yourself. A survey by Talk About Giving found that 71 percent of grown children whose parents were philanthropic grew up to be givers. Fewer than half whose parents weren’t charitable grew up to be that way.
In fact, just talking to kids about giving raises the odds they’ll be charitable adults by 13 percent!
3. Remember that giving isn’t always about money.
I get it. Kids don’t have jobs. So what can they give? It’s important to stress to youngsters that “giving” doesn’t have to be financial.
Younger kids can send letters and drawings to hospitalized soldiers, collect food from their neighbors for a food bank or donate toys, books and clothing they’ve outgrown. Older kids can serve meals at a soup kitchen, volunteer walking dogs at an animal shelter or visit a nursing home.
4. Let them lead the way.
There’s a well-known adage that says, “philanthropy is personal,” and it’s something to keep in mind when it comes to your kids. The causes you care about may not interest them in the slightest.
It’s really a no-brainer—the more a child is interested in something, the more he or she will be motivated to work for that cause. So, whether it’s pets, or nature, or baking, or babies, find out what your kid is passionate about and find a way to help.
5. Be consistent.
As a parent, you can’t just talk about giving at the holidays and expect your child to be willing to give up half his allowance to an animal shelter during the other eleven months of the year.
For your lessons to stick, philanthropy needs to become your family’s lifestyle. And that requires routine.
Set up regularly scheduled family “giving days” once a month. Discuss community needs around the dinner table. Watch movies and documentaries about people who’ve made the world a better place.
With an early start, consistent examples in your parenting and good causes tailored for children, philanthropy can take hold of your kids when they’re young, helping teach important lessons about giving and community awareness along the way.
Guest Post author
Avani Desai is a mom of two, executive vice president at Schellman & Company, a member of the board of directors at Central Florida Foundation, and co-chair of 100 Women Strong, a collective-giving initiative of the Central Florida Foundation that inspires women in Central Florida to help improve the lives of women and children through strategic philanthropy.