Forbes: How to Raise Generous Kids

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By age three, children are typically developing awareness of other people’s feelings, so it’s the perfect time to introduce children to the joys of helping others. 

You can cultivate their budding empathy with age-appropriate picture books that explore generosity and the power of giving. You can also use books to answer young children’s difficult questions about what they observe, such as: “Why did that man ask you for money? Why is that lady sleeping on the park bench?” (For example, The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern deals candidly with homelessness.) As children start to become aware of complex social problems such as poverty and homelessness, they can often find comfort in the realization that you and they have the power to make an appreciable difference. In fact, seeing you model philanthropic behavior can help them understand that action should follow empathy.

Watching you engage in charitable activities reinforces the perception that your family values acts of generosity. The more the notion “this is what our family does” is reinforced, the better. Bring your children along when you provide books to a homeless shelter, shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway, or donate used toys and clothing.

Make It Personal

Children of any age can be encouraged to see giving as a means of personal expression. You can encourage young children’s charitable instincts by asking them to draw pictures. Ask: “What things are you thankful for? What makes you happy? What makes you sad?”

Make It a Family Tradition

Children love to hear about the family’s history of giving. At the holiday table and throughout the year, share family stories from your own childhood or even further back in your family’s history. Any experience where a family member learned something about giving—how Grandpa helped neighbors down on their luck, or Aunt Anne planted a community garden—can be shared in the form of a story that will help children feel a sense of belonging to something bigger.

As the younger generation begins to live their values, make sure that their stories are also shared, updating your family’s tradition of giving to the present moment. And to keep that tradition going in perpetuity, you might consider establishing a family foundation. Because a private foundation can be established to exist in perpetuity, it becomes a sort of philanthropic heirloom linking one generation to the next. The process of working together as a family can instill philanthropic values that last a lifetime, producing generation upon generation of individuals who are committed to making a difference.

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