We all have hopes for the future adults our children will become. We hope they will be successful, we hope they will be happy, and we hope they will make a positive impact on the world around them. We have schools and teachers to educate them, prepare them for a career in the world. We have family and friends to spend time with, to laugh with, and to show them what happiness is. That leaves making a positive impact. Yes, this may go hand in hand with the career they choose, but what if it doesn’t. What can they do, and how can we teach them the impact of being charitable.
First and foremost, we inspire children through the example we set. A child who grows up in a charitable home, who takes part in volunteering or donating, will learn what it means to give back. It is important in these situations to always share the “why” with children. It is great to have them go through the motions of volunteering; however, it makes even more of an impression if they understand why they are volunteering. That lasting impression will be the reason they carry on the tradition of being charitable.
One of our volunteers reached out with a story about her son. For years she has been instilling in him the importance of giving back. She has done this by including him in volunteer opportunities, and explaining to him why she chooses to participate. One of the first opportunities she actively included him in was an environmental clean-up. He was five years old at the time. By the end of the day he was explaining to others the importance of keeping plastic out of the waterways, and why you shouldn’t litter. Five years later, and many more clean-ups under his belt, his conversation about taking care of the environment has become more detailed and compelling. At the age of eight he started helping shovel snow from the driveways and walkways of seniors in his neighborhood. While delighted to receive the occasional batch of fresh baked cookies in return, he was not doing this with the expectation of any kind of reward. Rather, he was doing this with an understanding that sometimes people need help, sometimes they are unable to do certain things, and for their safety and well-being, it is important to lend a helping hand. More recently, with the rise of food insecurities, he has been helping with meal deliveries and distributions, carrying boxes in and out of drop points, and running individual meals up to the homes of seniors in his community. Having these opportunities to volunteer, and to understand the importance of his actions, has left a lasting impression. He now jumps at the opportunity to help someone in need.
Giving back looks different for each family. Some families donate items, some give financially, and others donate their time. Many families, in anticipation of the holidays, have their children select some of their toys donate. Others will hand their children money to drop in a collection bin. Those who choose to donate their time do so in a variety of ways, as detailed in the story above. All of these ways of giving are important; all of them make a positive impact.
Children are also inspired by what they read and what they watch. Books like “The Giving Tree” and “When Stories Fell Like Shooting Stars” contain powerful messages about giving, and appreciation. Movies like “The Lorax” and “Up” for younger children, and “Pay It Forward” for older children, teach valuable lessons about giving and caring. A follow up discussion on the books and movies will leave even more of an impression. Let the children tell you what they thought about the story, what they thought was important, how the characters made a positive impact on the world around them, and why that matters.
It seems appropriate to close with the words of Graham Nash, “Teach your children well.” We are raising future adults. What we do, what we show them, will have a direct effect on who they will become. This November, in honor of GivingTuesday, what can you do to inspire your children to give back?