how to help kids develop a spirit of generosity

The subjects of gratitude and generosity often take center stage as parents struggle to reconcile the giving and getting of the holiday season. As parents we want our kids to be generous. Our kids, on the other hand, may resist our attempts to persuade them to part with their hard earned cash.

What’s a parent to do about all of this?

Before you can begin the conversation of donating money to a charity, children need to experience what it is like to have their own money and to make decisions about that money. As we all know, generosity is the result of experience and practice and we want our kids to have plenty of both.

As soon as you are sure the kids won’t put the money in their mouths, they are old enough to begin to practice. The younger they are when they start the longer they have to learn the value of money and, more importantly, to develop a healthy relationship with money. You cannot teach your children how to manage money by talking to them or by lecturing them about it. Not even by sharing your own wisdom with them (nice as that would be).

Learning how to spend, save, and give away money is a life-skill that takes years to develop. Consider the benefit of allowing your five-year-old to learn the art of spending and saving with small amounts of money. With each year, his financial competency increases ensuring that he becomes a financially experienced 18-year-old who can manage money with ease and confidence.

Here are a few simple guidelines to consider.

  • Give your children allowance. Choose a day of the week and a time of day and stick with it. Consistency is important so you don’t forget and interrupt the learning. It’s impossible for kids to learn to save if they aren’t sure the money will be available the following week.
  • When they beg for that shiny, sparkly, cool “thing” in the store, instead of saying “Absolutely not”, you say, “YES! Did you bring your money?” or “YES! Do you have enough money?” or “YES! How long will it take to save your money?”
  • Be prepared to support their desire to spend all their money on stuff that is cheap. This is part of the learning process as they grow into discerning consumers who consider price, quality and the necessity of the merchandise they are about to purchase.
  • Do not loan your children money. In a culture that promotes and encourages immediate gratification, when you limit impulse purchasing children learn patience, focus, and determination.
  • Help your kids open a bank account. Give them practice depositing and withdrawing money with a debit card, so they experience the ups and down of having immediate access to their funds. Ask a friendly bank teller to explain how deposits and withdrawals work so the kids have an understanding of the process and can be thoughtful when they approach any ATM machine. Some kids will still empty their accounts, which is another great learning opportunity.
  • As they get older, allow them to purchase expensive hygiene products or fashionable clothing or help pay for their hobbies. If they are interested, invite them to learn about paying bills and balancing the household account, so they get a sense of how much “life” really costs.
  • Talk to your kids about the charities you give to, how much you give, and why. Often times, kids begin their “giving” by purchasing pizza for the family, or buying popcorn when you go to the movies or buying something for a close friend.

Teaching children about donating their own money or toys or time to people in need is a gentle introduction into what we hope will be a way of life for our kids. Don’t be discouraged if your child takes awhile to embrace this new idea, this process can take time.

Once your children begin to develop their relationship with money you can help them understand the importance of giving.

  • When you talk about what giving means in your life, ask them if they are interested in finding a charity they can give to. Think of this as something you expose them to, not as something you must teach.
  • Remember that your child will start small, perhaps donating to a local charity and if you are patient and supportive, within a few years may be donating to a global project.
  • Introduce your kids to giving opportunities over the course of a year. That way, they won’t be shocked when the holidays arrive. We practiced giving something away, when we got something new. Each birthday, my children would pick toys they had outgrown and donate them. It became a natural part of their lives. Over time it evolved into each child supporting a charity of choice.

Money is a daily part of adult life; we have an opportunity, as parents, to introduce our kids to money and help them create a healthy relationship with it, so that when they are on their own, they will have the confidence and the experience to manage their money well.

About Vicki Hoefle

For more than two decades, parent educator, author, speaker and coach, Vicki Hoefle, has been helping families across the country. Her strategies work for every family, whether you are just starting the parenting journey, beginning to experience the first challenges of raising children in the 21st century, living with stress, or facing a crisis. Vicki inspires families and shows them how to spend their time and energy investing in the relationship, focus on what is important and experience the joy of living in a healthy, loving family.

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