We all know by now that “do as I say not as I do” has never worked. There is plenty of research available on the impact of modeling the behavior we expect from our kids as opposed to simply communicating it to them. The same holds true when it comes to giving. To teach kids what it means to give cannot be expressed in words, it requires action, especially since giving IS an action. Through community service and involvement in our town, scouts, school, 4H or interfaith circles we sought out opportunities with the goal of making it a part of the fabric of their being.
One of the sayings my kids grew up hearing is “even a smile is charity.” But what does that mean? Be kind? Sure, it does, but it also means that you don’t need to have major resources to give to others. That smile you gave at the checkout instead of scrolling or speaking on your phone could have just given that checkout clerk the boost to get through the rest of the shift. Now that I have a couple of young adults I noticed the fruit of our deeds. I noticed my oldest putting away her phone at the check out and interacting at the register, and believe me I did a happy dance in my head.
When they were super little I started with them drawing thank you pictures anytime we received a gift or were simply grateful for the care we received at the doctor’s office, or for a playdate at a friend’s. Mailing things was more common a decade ago but I know kids still love to send and receive “old fashioned” cards. Other times we brought an an extra snack at the playground we specifically intended to share with a friend. My kids (like many others) have always loved baking treats, so that also became a chance to give. We baked an extra batch of whatever we made and would decide who we could surprise them with (nut-free or other depending on the receiver, you want to be familiar with allergies). Pre-covid we individually wrapped cookies put ribbons on them and left a basket for nurses and staff at a nearby assisted living.
When they got older (past the fear of choking) we started the giving jar. In our case a “sadakah box”, the Arabic word for charity. We took care to decorate it and make it special and placed it in a visible spot. Either before leaving our home or upon returning (dependent on whether we had change) every day something goes in, even if only pennies. Sometimes kids find loose change in a jacket they haven’t worn and instinctively place a few of the coins into the box. When it reaches about $30-50 we choose a local place to donate to. I tried to encourage them to think about a need, or a cause that mattered to them so they made a connection between the giving and being part of a greater cause.
During quarantine my kids painted rocks with positive sayings, we kept them in the car and placed them where people could see them wherever we happened to go, like walking trails, near the library drop offs or in planter pots near the nursing home entrance. Sometimes at the foot of a mailbox we placed the colorful rocks to hopefully bring a smile to neighbors.
The point is to involve your kids from a young age, whether it’s making an extra dinner to drop off for a friend you know had a hard week, a batch of cookies for the librarian, helping an organization like one of our favorites, “Operation Holiday Cheer” or simply giving a smile at the checkout, giving is an action best learned by doing.