How to Instill Generosity In Your Children

When we think about volunteering our time, efforts, or — in some cases — money to a cause, we hopefully are doing those things for the right reasons. So far, my posts have examined what small business can gain from the passion of those interested in charity, and how giving back to your community in the smallest of ways can impact the greater good. As someone who’s volunteered in various organizations and non-profit groups for the past two decades, I recognized that my love for helping people — particularly when it comes to cultivating relationships and funding for programs that help communities — would serve me well as a liaison between the corporate and non-profit sector. But what I want to examine today is how generosity, however small or simple, often begins in your home.

Generally, the concept of being generous becomes an issue around the dinner table in some families — and it’s borne out of a place of guilt. How many of us growing up heard, “You better finish your food… do you know there are children in other countries who are starving right now?” But what if it came from a better place? One not of scarcity, but rather, abundance? Furthermore, what if it was cemented by our example?

As the saying goes, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” As a parent, it’s extremely critical for you to focus on what you have — not what you don’t have. Your children, whether you’re actually aware of it or not, are listening to every word you say and every action you take. Model empathy and compassion, and just like in business, don’t fake it just because it looks good. Kids especially pick up on insincerity.

And don’t be afraid to start too early. When my daughter was around 4, we began setting aside her old clothes so that other family members who were having children might be able to use them. Confused, she didn’t understand why she had to give the clothes away: they were hers, after all. As an only child up until that point, family had spoiled her: gifts, clothes… she had a lot of stuff. I had to explain to her that it didn’t always work that way. Life, I told her, wasn’t always about getting. It was about other people, first and foremost, and helping them if they needed it. By the time her sister was born, it seemed like she grasped it. She’d look at my youngest daughter and say, “I can’t wait to share.”

And these are the lessons I try to carry with me and impart to them day-to-day. At the store, if my children want books, we ask them to first consider that there may be a child who really wants a new book but can’t get it right now. Then we pose the question to them; we let them make the decision. Time after time, they’ll say, “Yes, I want that toy or that book, but I’ll donate another one so that that other kid can have a book too.” You can also do this by setting aside “allowance dollars” and making sure that — whatever they choose to spend it on — at least some portion of it goes to charity. It’s a great way to teach financial responsibility as well as to instill that sense of giving back to the community.

It’s fascinating to me that my youngest child, having followed the examples of generosity that our family has set for her, doesn’t even think twice about being generous. If she gets a book, she wants to make sure that her older sister gets one too. If I bake cookies, she wants to make sure that we make extra and bag them up for family members or friends who might enjoy them.

Remember, kids are watching, and they’ll do what you teach them. If you are sincere, empathetic and compassionate in action as well as word, you’ll end up raising the next generation of doers who want to make a positive impact in their community. And as a parent, I can’t think of anything else that would make me more proud.

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