Growing a Charitable Heart : Teaching Kids about Charity
Involving and finding ways to teach kids about charity gives them a sense of empowerment in making others lives better and a sense of responsibility for those that can’t do for themselves. Helping foster this feeling early on is so important in growing their empathy for others. There is nothing that make me prouder than seeing my kids connect with charity and as cheesy as it sounds, wanting to make the world a better place.
They usually connect more strongly with a very personal example, like giving up one of their own toys, instead of more abstract things like raising money for a shelter for a cause. There are several ways you can start nurturing their charitable hearts, and it starts with letting them take the lead.
Let Kids Take the Lead
Each season, we prepare care packages with a variety of things and keep them in our car to pass out as we meet people that might be able to use them. They are super simple to make and a great way to introduce your kids to the idea of charity.
I let the kids lead and pick out things at the dollar store or grocery store that they think would be helpful to others. We have a few staples like water bottles. I let them choose most of the snacks or supplies. One bit of inspiration for my son came when my mother gave him some hot-hands hand-warmers. He was riding in the local Christmas Parade, and it was very cold outside. He said “these would be great for our homeless bags”! We ordered a whole box on Amazon that night.
Letting your kids lead the effort really helps them gain a sense of pride in the activity or gift. When someone says “thank you” for the gift they picked out, it means so much more. They see that their efforts and thoughts really made someone else happy. Connecting that feeling of pride with helping others is something they carry with them for a long time.
Make a Personal Connection
My daughter would tell you that Lou is one of her best friends, but we only see Lou for about 2 minutes a day. Sometimes we can stop to talk, but other times it’s just a very energetic wave. He occupies a corner on the way to my daughter’s school asking for money in exchange for a newspaper. We don’t know Lou’s whole story, but we know that he appreciates water bottles and hot hands when it’s really cold outside.
We met Lou passing out our Homeless Care Packages. While we had been passing out care packages for a long time, taking the time to ask someone their name changed the way my daughter feels and connects with other people. We stopped to give out a package one day, and ,my daughter spontaneously asked Lou his name. He told us it was “Lou” and asked what her name was. She told him and a friendship was born. The next day she grabbed an extra yogurt tube for her new friend Lou while putting her breakfast together. This continued for a while and still erupts in random acts that strengthen her care and friendship with him. Every day when we pull up to Lou’s red light, she waves like crazy even if we don’t have anything to give him that day. I see his face light up, and he always waves back.
For younger kids, a personal connection builds empathy and caring so much quicker than an abstract charity project. My daughter has asked so many questions about her friend Lou : Where does he live? How does he get food? These questions create such great moments for sharing and understanding about how we can help other people.
Make it a Community
While you can develop this feeling of gratitude and charity independently, your kids can benefit so much from seeing others engage as well. Volunteering with others lets them see the excitement and gives you new ideas for fun.
One of my son’s friends held her birthday party at Second Harvest, a local food bank. They let the kids open boxes and stack food for summer meals for other kids. They had several stations, and we ended up at the “break-down” station. My son and his other energetic friends got to jump on boxes and break them down for recycling after others had emptied them of their snacks and supplies.
Seeing the size of the food bank even made an impression on my son. It was a huge warehouse, and he was amazing that all of this was needed. He didn’t know that that many people needed food.
Connect with a Peer
Another great way to help your kids identify with charity is to find a cause or chance for them to connect with someone their own age. For us, we participate in Back-To-School charity events, the Salvation Army Angel Tree, and summer food drives. All of these give us a chance to choose a child close to their age and engage in helping someone they understand, another kid!
For back-to-school drives, you can often pick up an extra backpack or school supplies to donate. You’ll be surprised how excited they get to pick out a backpack for a friend that might not be able to get one for themselves. The Salvation Army Angel tree lets you pick out individuals or even a whole family. We have done both, and the kids will go so excited buying presents for someone just like them. I have even had my son forgo a present for himself so he could get a bigger one for another kid.
The summer food drives were the latest even we participated in. So many children get their only nutritious meal from school. When summer comes around, they don’t have a guaranteed meal every day. Again, my kids connected with their peers and had fun picking out meals and food that they would want to eat.
By connecting charity with a peer, they can more easily relate to the change they are making in someone’s life. They are literally giving someone else the excitement they feel at a Christmas present or relieving the way they feel when they are hungry.
Make a Tradition
We have volunteered at the same charity event for over 18 years now. My uncle started the Haywood County Motorcycle Parade and Toy Run, and I remember my first act being to get McDonald’s to donate coffee. It was my first job in high school, and I remember personally feeling proud that I was able to contribute to the Toy Run with my free coffee that year.
Ever since, I have headed home to collect money and put wrist-bands on the riders as they entered the Toy Run. My husband was an avid motorcycle rider, and we eventually even rode in the Toy Run. Now that my kids are older, they participate too. They wave the flags to show the bikes where to park and wave/smile at everyone coming in.
The Toy Run raises money and toys for children in my home county that can’t afford them for Christmas. To date, it’s raised over $182,000 (not including donated toys) for the children of Haywood County, NC. After the Toy Run, we head to my parents house for our Thanksgiving meal, and it’s become a cherished tradition. Our favorite part is watching all the bikes leave for the ride!
Connecting your kids to charity is as much about the outcome of the event as the impact on their heart. I want my kids to grow up knowing that one of the best things in the world is your ability to help others. There are several ways you can start your charity journey:
- Let the Kids take the Lead : Allow your kids to pick out something to donate or give others. They will take pride in seeing their selection helping others.
- Make a Personal Connection : Let your kids develop a personal connection with someone they are helping. They will ask more questions about how to help their friend and open up opportunities for discussion.
- Make it a Community : Find something for them to do with other kids and set a good example.
- Connect with a Peer : Find a charity that helps other kids. It is much easier to connect to.
- Make a Tradition : Make it a tradition so they expect it to happen and connect it to lasting memories.