Raising kids who gave back to society has always been an important value for Joe and I. We made it part of our family vision and mission statement and have written family goals to make sure we live it out. It is probably one of the best parenting decisions we made and we are so very proud of how our girls have continued this attitude on their own without our help. So if you are looking for ways of cultivating a give back attitude in your kids and in your family life, here are four ideas to help get you started.
Make it a Party
For a couple of years, as a family we organized and ran Relay for Life events in memory of my friend Louise. The entire family had a role in the events. Katie and I organized fundraisers, Joe stayed up 24 hours to keep an eye on the kids as they continued the walk, and the other three pitched in wherever they were needed, never complaining once. We arranged for dunk tanks on the day of the event and invited all of our friends along with Louise’s friends. We spent the day hanging out, laughing and celebrating the life of Louise. And after those two years of running events as a family, Katie was ready to organize her own team. She and a group of friends for all four years in high school continued the tradition and organized and raised thousands of dollars for cancer research. They did it by organizing can drives, selling henna tattoos, and selling hotdogs to hungry walkers in the event.
Through this experience we found that people really do want to help, they just don’t necessarily want to do all the work involved in organizing and planning. They love to contribute and help make a difference they just need someone like you and your family to lead them.
So make it a party. Find a cause you feel connected to, invite your friends, and have a great time while also making a difference.
Teach Them to Share Their Wealth
Giving your time is important, but the reality is that charities and non-profits also need your dollars. They need money to provide services, fund research, and pay their staff. So if you want your kids to understand this consider asking them to share a portion of their allowance with a cause or charity near and dear to their hearts. For us, this practice started when they were about 4 or 5 and it started with a simple giving box. As the girls got older and received a larger allowance, they were asked to set aside a percentage of their allowance for giving. They have a lot of choice in how they choose to donate their money and they have used it to buy school supplies for less fortunate children, fund Kiva loans, make donations to local children’s hospitals, and help protect endangered species.
Empowering them to share their wealth gives them confidence, a bigger world view, and helps them feel good about themselves. If you want to see how we do this with their allowance you can find the details of the system we use for the teenagers here and the pre-teens here. For younger kids (preschool – 8ish), try a giving box.
Do What Feels Natural
If you want to get your kids excited about giving back, start with activities and opportunities that feel natural and align with your interests. This helps the kids understand more easily and relate more. So if you have had someone in your family battle cancer, supporting a cancer charity may be the right choice. If your kids love animals, try getting involved with your local animal rescue leagues or supporting charities that protect animals. You get the idea. Start with what you know, feel connected to and the rest will be much easier.
Don’t Do It to Check a Box
Your kids are really smart. They will see through any attempts by parents to check a box. So you if are trying to cultivate a sense of giving in your family because you think it is some parenting box you need to check off or you want your kids to be able to add it to a college application, I would suggest you just stop and first get honest with yourself and kids. If your motives are shallow and not heart felt, you and your kids will lose motivation and lose it fast. Plus it just sends the wrong message to the kids.
Being a family with purpose shouldn’t be about checking boxes. It should be about knowing who you are, getting excited about your life, and every day taking some small step to being all you were meant to be. So please don’t “give back” to just check a box. Do it because it feels right, because it is who you are, and because it is how you want to make a difference in the world.