The commercialization of the holiday season can make it easy to forget that the holidays are supposed to be about giving instead of receiving. Many children are so focused on the gifts they receive that parents often question whether their children are too self-absorbed to realize that they should be grateful for what they have in their lives. One way to help children be more grateful and understand the true meaning of the holiday season is to teach them about charity.
Importance of Raising Charitable Kids
We discussed the importance of raising a grateful child in a previous blog post, but it is also important to teach children about charity because the two topics are deeply intertwined. People are more likely to be charitable if they are grateful, but being charitable can also cause people to develop an increased gratitude for what they have in life.
In a study recently published in PLoS ONE, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that giving to others makes children happier than when they receive something. The study also found that children who sacrificed something of their own gained more happiness than children who gave something that did not cost them anything. This suggests that children have a natural, genuine concern for others and can benefit from being charitable at a young age.
Learning to be charitable as a child will also help children experience the benefits of giving to others when they become adults. As reported by Maia Szalavitz in Time, volunteering regularly can decrease early mortality rates by 22%, reduce chances of depression, and increase a person’s life satisfaction and happiness. These scientific findings prove that encouraging children to volunteer and help others at an early age will help them live longer and happier lives.
Five Ways to Encourage Charity
Teaching kids to give back and help others isn’t always easy, especially if your family is pressed for time, but the benefits your family gains from helping others will be well worth any scheduling conflicts you have to conquer. The following five tips are great ways for you to encourage charity and help your kids and family give back to the community:
1. Be a good role model.
If you want your children to be charitable, it’s important for you to set a positive example for them to follow. This doesn’t mean you have to head a fundraising committee or spend a lot of hours volunteering; small and simple charitable acts can have just as much of an impact on children as the larger ones. Giving any spare change you have, donating gently used items, or buying extra food to take to your local food bank are all great ways to show your child that you think helping others is important.
2. Talk to your children about charity.
Have a greater impact with children by making an effort to talk to them about charity in conjunction with being a good role model. Women Give 2013, a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, found that “talking to children about charity has a greater impact on children’s giving than role modeling alone.” The study also found that talking to children about charity and helping others is “equally effective” regardless of the parent’s income level or the child’s gender, race, and age. Encourage discussions about charity at the dinner table or after children do something charitable. It’s better to give them an explanation of why what they’re doing matters instead of just telling them that they need to do it. Reading books, such as The Lion and the Mouse and the books in our Learn to Get Along Book Set, can also help you and your kids discuss the importance of helping others.
3. Make giving to others a family tradition.
Making charity a family tradition will help your children feel more comfortable volunteering and will also provide additional opportunities for you to be a good role model for your kids. One popular tradition for many families this time of the year is to volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or food banks. These types of volunteer experiences are good for older children, but you may want to consider other ways to give back if you have young children. In a recent article, CNBC’s Kelley Holland reports that families with young children should skip volunteering at soup kitchens because kids do not learn as much from the experience since they cannot help serve hot food or be around stoves and knives. Volunteering at toy drives or delivering fruit baskets and gifts to hospitals and the elderly may be more appropriate charitable family traditions when your children are younger.
4. Come up with creative ways to give back.
You don’t have to volunteer in soup kitchens or serve the homeless a Thanksgiving meal in order to be charitable. Donating gifts for Toys for Tots or for the Salvation Army Angel Tree are great ways for your family to give back this time of the year. You can also make giving back a little more personal for your kids by having them create their own projects or make their own greeting cards to send to soldiers or the elderly. Many charities have a spike in volunteers during November and December, so try to think of places that may not be getting the volunteers they need this time of the year. If an organization has all the help they need right now, it’s best for you to find a charity truly in need of the help your family can give.
5. Pick charity projects that your kids and family will enjoy.
Strive to pick charity projects that let your children see how their actions truly impact and help others because the concrete evidence they gain from those experiences will help reinforce the value of charity. Your family will enjoy and learn more from the projects they can connect with, so try to find projects that match your family’s interests, hobbies, and charitable causes. Another idea is for your family to come up with your own unique project to help meet an unmet need in the community. If your family is really busy during the holiday season, then come up with charity projects you can do together as a family at other times of the year. Try donating food items during the summer months, playing a baseball game for charity, or running a 5K race as a family to benefit an important cause. Remember that it’s always a good idea to encourage your children to be charitable and give back throughout the year.
Aknin, Lara B., J. Kiley Hamlin, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. “Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children.” PLoS ONE. PLoS ONE 7.6 (2012): 3. PDF file. 18 Nov. 2013.
Holland, Kelley. “Teaching kids charity? Skip the soup kitchen trip.” CNBC. CNBC LLC, 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Szalavitz, Maia. “Helping Others Helps You to Live Longer.” Time. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
“Women Give 2013: New Research on Charitable Giving by Girls and Boys.” Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 2013. PDF file. 15 Nov. 2013.