Raising Kids Who Like to Give: From the "Gimme" to the Giving Generation

Lisa Novick
April 2, 2010

Kids always want stuff. More, more, more! As parents, what do we need to do to raise kids who are not leading the "Gimme Generation" but rather the "Giving Generation?"

I haven't met a parent yet who doesn't want to raise a caring kid.  In fact, even amidst the tough economic times, it is interesting to read a recent PARADE magazine poll reporting that Americans are in a "compassion boom."  Not only is volunteerism on the rise, 90% of Americans surveyed by PARADE said "they are working hard to teach their children the importance of activism." This is great, particularly since other studies have shown when volunteerism is part of young kids' lives, they have greater self-esteem, pride, and continue to volunteer as they get older.  

The PARADE article goes on to say that parents try to teach their kids about being charitable in a variety of ways: leading by example, talking about important issues and causes, discussing their own philanthropic pursuits, taking kids to volunteer meetings, urging them to follow role models committed to changing our world, and donating their own money.

The thing is this:  It's not that I don't believe what the fine survey takers are saying. I do. But, who among us hasn't heard ourselves or our friends scream, "I am so busy!?" How do we fit one more thing into our hectic lives?  We need convenience! 

So here is a new way to think about community service: make "giving experiences" part of your every day routine. What is a giving experience?  To me, it is any teachable, memorable, or enjoyable moment -- big or small -- that reinforces the value of giving back for kids and parents.  And the best part is...there is no reason why a giving experience can't be easy!  Here are a few ideas for building giving experiences into your life.  

  1. Talk.  During mealtime, drive-time, or bedtime, ask your kids if they know what it means to be charitable. Explain that giving back can include donating money, time, or talent.  Give or ask for examples of kind acts and build on these discussions over time.   For even younger kids, frame the discussion around what it means to be a "giver," a "receiver," or a "helper."  Also, ask questions such as "Did you help anyone today?"  "Were you nice to someone today?" It's okay if your child does not have an affirmative answer.  Just starting and continuing the discussion will help your kids notice their own kind acts.
  2. Start young.  Involve your kids in a giving experience when they are as young as three or four. Even toddlers can help put outgrown shoes in a donation bag, pass along unwanted stuffed animals or toys, or gather canned goods.
  3. Think small.  Reinforce your kids' little acts of kindness.  When your children show signs of compassion (such as saying hello to classmate who is shy, giving a friend a hug, or paying someone a compliment) acknowledge their actions by telling them how proud you feel.   Encourage simple actions such as tying a younger child's shoes, feeding the dog, or dropping off a neighbor's newspaper.  Simple actions can have extraordinary outcomes.
  4. Find the right fit.   Take the time to select a service activity that works well with your kid's personality and interests.  If your child is shy, for example, avoid volunteering in an environment that is over-crowded, loud, or overwhelming.  Tap into what your kid loves.  If your child adores animals, support an animal shelter.     
  5. Take a different route.  Different kids are engaged by different things.  Read a book with messages about giving back or kindness.  Watch a movie or television program about social action, going green or animal welfare.  Characters or storylines that illustrate good deeds can help reinforce the values you want to teach.  
  6. Piggyback.    Make a giving experience part of an existing outing, activity, or event.  When you go back-to-school or grocery shopping, bring your kids with you to help purchase extra supplies or food to donate to a local charity.   Consider building in a charitable component to a birthday or slumber party.  (A great resource for transforming your kid's party is Birthday Wishes, an organization that brings birthday parties to homeless children. When it is time to buy teacher gifts, give a donation or gift certificate in the teacher's name and involve your kids in the charity selection.  (A favorite for charitable gift certificates is www.donorschoose.org.) 

Overall, make the experience fun and participate enthusiastically with your kids! Kids like to model your behavior and want to make you proud.  Most important, do what works for your family. Just find time during the year to do something. Big or small, a giving experience can change your life, your kid's life, and the life of someone completely unexpected. And wouldn't it be something if we all heard from our kids a little less of the "What can I get" refrain and a little more of the "What can I give?"

Motivate kids where they live - online!  Become part of KidzPlace! -- a global, online networking site where parent post their kids' giving experiences and give them a virtual high five at the same time.  (It's free, secure, and user- friendly.)  In celebration of the launch of KidzPlace!, the first 100 people to post their kid' kind acts will receive a free Act of Kindness community service kit($8 value) that includes a unique and fun activity that is doable at home in 1-2 hours.  Each kit includes complete instructions from a supply list to suggested donation recipients.  Go to http://www.kidzplace.yeskidzcan.com to applaud your kids' kind acts, and get your free kit! 

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