(BPT) - One of the most rewarding reasons to get involved in your community is to set a good example for your kids. Whether you donate money or time, giving back is beneficial, and not just for the recipients. The reward for your selfless acts can be a beautiful thing for both your community and your children’s future. But what are some of the ways you can teach kids to give back and what age should you begin encouraging them?
Giving back is just as much about volunteering as it is about philanthropy. Dr. Lois Winchell, child and family therapist at Argosy University, Sarasota, believes it should be a combination of both. “If we want our children to give back, our families need to be involved in multiple activities,” says Winchell. “These include volunteering resources and time and giving money when possible. Learning how to donate time can be a very powerful lesson for children because it is a giving of ourselves. This intimate experience can be significant and can often reap a more personal reward than the offering of money and things.”
As with everything else in life, kids learn best by example. The closer you can bring your child to the recipient of the gift, the more personal the experience becomes.
“Nurturing a sense of giving and making sure this is a value for your children starts as early as age 3 or 4,” says Winchell. “At this developmental age, we can teach them that others have feelings and that your child has an impact on those feelings. This sense of empathy is the underpinning of charity. The most significant impact on our children is what they actually see us doing as it relates to a giving spirit. As we engage in specific projects, we can have conversations with our children regarding why the project is important and who will benefit.”
Start by expanding their sense of environment, from the immediate family to their local community and eventually the world around them. A sense of awareness of something greater than themselves is important in raising a compassionate individual. This sense of responsibility to others and the environment as a world citizen can be supported by making children aware of others’ needs whether in visiting a shelter or a food banks with family members or simply helping younger siblings.
“From infancy to about 5 years old, children aren’t necessarily capable of thinking outside of themselves. Even so, parents need to foster their child’s sharing with others,” says Winchell. As children grow older they can begin volunteering and supporting community projects more directly. Whether they donate toys to a children’s shelter or simply participate in a walk for charity, these years are important for a child to learn the art of giving back. When they become teenagers, they can do even more for the community by assisting an elderly neighbor with his yard work or helping out at a local food bank or soup kitchen.
Additionally, it is important to convey the message that “giving back” does not include an expectation of getting something in return. Instead, highlight the sense of joy in being able to make someone happy and how those feelings are the greater gift.
“When a child experiences sharing and the serving of others, an internal sense of contentment and self-worth is experienced,” says Winchell. “This self-enhancement and sense of belonging is coincident with their giving and results in a benefit that cannot be gained any other way. This sense of happiness and accomplishment then contributes to their positive sense of self.” In other words, teaching kids to give back is one of the best things a parent can do for the community and the child.