A Teachable Moment: Being Charitable Comes from the Heart and Home

By Dr. Susan Bartell

Every parent would like to raise a child who is charitable and generous of spirit. Some people are born this way, most children who grow up to be giving, altruistic adults do so because, as children, they were taught the value of these traits. As the holiday season begins, now is the perfect time for teaching children to give and the importance of being charitable—both at home and in the greater community within which he lives.

There are many ways to teach a child to be giving and openhearted, but the two best ways are to model this behavior and help her actually engage in acting charitably. By doing both of these you are even more likely to increase the chance of your child growing up to become a charitable, giving adult.

It is important to begin the act of giving right at home. For example, although sharing toys, clothes and other material possessions is difficult for most children, encouraging your child to share with siblings, other family members and friends is an excellent way to teach altruism. It is also important to be a good role model, by sharing generously yourself. In addition, teach your child that being generous and patient with his time is also a good way to be giving. Older siblings can learn that spending time with younger ones (even if they may not feel like it), is important, and all children can be taught how playing a game that a friend or sibling really wants to play (even if you’re not in the mood to do so), is another way of being generous. Of course, as a parent, it is important to point out to your child when you give in these ways too.

Outside of your home, and depending on her age, you can encourage your child to donate time to working in a soup kitchen, or at a charity fundraiser or helping an elderly or ill neighbor in need. Of course, when you volunteer your time too, your child will be even more likely to recognize the importance of having a generous heart. You can teach your child other ways to be giving as well. For example, your child should learn that donating well-preserved, outgrown clothing, books or toys, is also a way of being charitable.

Of course, in addition to encouraging your child to give his time and effort in charitable ways, teaching him to giving money to worthy causes is another way to help him develop a true sense of the holiday spirit and learn to experience the good feelings that come from being charitable. It really is true that ‘every penny counts’ so help your child choose a cause and then decide how much money he would like to donate. Most children find it meaningful to donate to a cause that has an impact upon children. Encourage your child to donate an amount of money that will feel significant, but that he will not resent. For some children this will be twenty-five cents and for others it will be twenty-five dollars. It is not the amount that matters, but the act of giving with an open heart.

Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions That Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com

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