Teaching Kids About Giving and Charity

We have a special tradition this time of year our entire extended family has come to value. We call it “the Charity Pie” tradition.

Each year we make a small cash donation to a charity in the area who organizes meals for the homeless during the holidays. The charity works with a bakery and each donation is met with a yummy pie as a way of saying “thank you for making someone else’s holiday a bit sweeter”.Serving our “charity pies” each Thanksgiving truly does add a special sweetness to the day knowing that our donation helps a family escape the street for a small while, stay warm and enjoy a holiday meal safely. Serving the pies is a great way to also trigger a conversation that there are others right in our own communities who need a helping hand and that there are so many easy ways to accomplish that and that also teach our kids about the value of giving and being charitable.

Giving back to others is a big theme in our house and one we started teaching our kids a very long time ago, as soon as our kids were old enough to get the concept of gift giving, in fact.

One of my children’s favorites is giving to Toys For Tots.  Years ago, we came up with the idea of setting aside one birthday present each that they would donate to a child for the holidays. Just after Thanksgiving, we would go to our local drop box and they would drop it in. With drop boxes out and online donations in, they now save spare change or do extra chores to earn a few dollars to contribute to our annual family donation.

We also give to a local home for kids. Initially we’d just give to the home but now we get our kids involved and give to a specific child in need online or a specific age group. It makes them feel great knowing they are making someone around their age have a nicer holiday and fulfilling that child’s “wish list”.

Kids are not born knowing how to give. It has to be taught and the best way is by example. By being giving to each other within the family and our immediate communities, our children learn naturally how wonderful it is to give, and how easy it is to do, regardless of income. They learn that giving can be in time, in gestures, in goods, as well as in dollars. And, that giving of the heart is often the best way to give and means to the most in the long run.

I’ve seen some creative uses of giving. For example, some birthday parties now are asking people to not bring gifts but consider donations to a charity the child has picked out. I’ve seen people ask for “gently used” items to give to charities. I’ve seen spare change drives that can add up to a surprising amount of funds for a cause.

Some parents also have hang-ups about giving gifts to each other that are confusing to children. Giving in a family is important. The gift can be home made but it is important that children learn to give to siblings and parents, and that they see parents giving to children and each other, even if a thoughtful card or some flowers. It’s the gesture we’re going for…the act of giving we want our children to understand.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to give. Find a cause that means something to you and your family, collect some spare change and make this year the first of many where you create your own new giving traditions.

And, don’t forget the important lesson of giving in your own family. If your kids are going to get gifts from you, Santa, Hanukah Harry and relatives, they should learn at whatever age they are to give back to all those folks. That, in the end, is more important than the gifts they receive. They earlier they learn that, the better off they will be when they are a bit older.

(Originally posted November 2009; Updated November 2010)