How to raise charitably minded children

When it comes to molding the next generation of philanthropists, research shows that both words and actions count. According to a study in the Journal of Adolescence, adolescents were 18% more likely to donate money to a charitable organization if their parents had made any donation of their own in the past year. On the other hand, if a parent donated and talked about it, the child was 33% more likely to donate – an increase of 15 percentage points. And a classic experiment by psychologist J. Philippe Rushton involving generous and selfish teachers proved that children model the behavior they witness, regardless of what they’re told.

Giving to charity teaches empathy, gratefulness, and basic math and money management skills. So it’s no wonder many of us want to raise charitable children. Many, however, don’t know exactly how to talk about it or show it through our actions. Here, we’ve gathered stories of how parents are approaching this issue in their daily lives to create a family tradition of giving.

“I encouraged my 3-year-old to donate her toys to wildfire victims.” As she gathered household items for victims of the California wildfires in shelters nearby, one mom asked her preschooler if she’d like to give and explained that some children had lost all their playthings to fire. Her preschooler went through her toys and offered several for donation.

“I supported my 9-year-old in asking for donations instead of birthday gifts.” Having undergone several surgeries for a birth defect, one little boy was intimately familiar with the plight of children undergoing lifesaving medical treatment. He heard about a child who had collected donations in lieu of birthday gifts and wanted to do the same for a charity that helps sick children. His father supported him by clearly communicating his son’s wishes to parents in an email invitation to the party, and sharing the results of the fundraiser at the party and through email and social media.

“I give my 11-year-old a three-part allowance.” One socially conscious mom gives her son a small allowance each month and uses an app on her phone to track this money and extras like birthday checks. She makes sure the income is divided into accounts designated for charitable giving, long-term savings and spending. Once a quarter, she sits down with her son and helps him decide where to donate. He most recently gave to a charity supporting Syrian refugees – learning lessons in empathy, current events, math and financial literacy.

“I involve my grown children and grandchildren in making grants from my giving account.” At Thanksgiving dinner, a father determined to create a family of philanthropists invited everyone seated to submit recommendations for grants from his donor advised fund account. It started a meaningful conversation about the family’s values and how they’d like to make a difference in the world. The family members ended up steering donations toward charities that feed the needy, protect battered women, and provide healthcare to indigent children and young adults.

“I regularly ask my children, ‘How did you help someone today?’” Dinner table conversation carries special importance at one charity-minded household, where each child expects to hear this question directed their way. It reminds the kids that their parents expect them to look out for others.

You can start meaningful conversations about philanthropy with your children and establish a family tradition of giving. You’ll also have the satisfaction of helping your children make a difference.

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