Some of the most common questions we get from parents is when and how to introduce charity into their children's lives. Fortunately, there are straightforward answers to both questions.
The when to introduce them to charity is around age three to four. Until then, our children don't realize that other people have different feelings and ideas. We often tell the story of running into our friend, Elizabeth, and her three year old son, Jake, at a local mall. Jake was very excited because Mommy had a new car. He dragged us to a window overlooking the parking lot, pointed and said "There it is." The problem was that there were probably a hundred cars in the parking lot. Because Jake knew which car was Mommy's, he simply assumed that everyone else would know, too. Once our children can understand that people have different feelings and ideas, they have the capacity for empathy, which is the basis for charity.
The how to introduce our children to charity is equally straightforward. Find opportunities that give our children concrete examples of helping others. Here's an example of making charity concrete for younger children. Let's say you're down on the floor with your young child playing with some toys. Explain that there are children who don't have any toys. Perhaps their parents can't afford to buy toys or their toys in a disaster like hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Suggest gathering the toys that he or she is "too big for", put them in bag and together take them to a local collection center.
Oprah has created an absolutely wonderful website that can be used to introduce children to charity in a very concrete way. Go to Oprah's Katrina Homes Registry at http://www2.oprah.com/uyl/katrina/homes/homes_registry.jhtml. The Registry allows you and your child to help refurnish a home for a family devastated by Katrina. The registry a list of typical items for the home, along with a picture of each of the items and the cost. For example, the Living Room section includes picture frames, lamps, sofas, rugs and chairs, with prices ranging from $10 to $1,400 for a completely furnished room.
Just think of the experience of talking with your child about how your family is going to use some of your money to help victims of the hurricane and then sitting down in front of the computer and letting your child help.
Another great way to make charity concrete for your children is Project Backpack for Hurricane Katrina victims. Take your child to a store that sells school supplies. Buy a backpack and fill it with pencils, notebooks, etc., and take it to a local collection center. But before you drop it off, have your child write a note to the child who will get the backpack. Include a photograph of your child and a stamped, self addressed envelope. For more information, go to .
Web sites such as Oprah's Katrina Home Registry and Project Backpack offer concrete examples that help you and your children become a charitable family together.
Eileen Gallo, Ph.D. , and Jon Gallo, J.D. are experts on children, families and money and authors of The Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps to Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children. Their parenting tips and tools can be found at www.FIParent.com .