Parents Who Raise Charitable Kids Do These 6 Things

Kids get a lot of gifts. It’s important they learn to like giving them too — especially charitable donations and the gift of their time.

by Alison Zeidman
Originally Published: 
A child and her father volunteer by painting a wall mural.
Hill Street Studios/Getty

Kids get a lot of gifts, from birthdays to Christmas to doting grandparents dropping by with a new toy just because. So how can parents help their kids translate the joy they get from getting gifts into a sense of satisfaction from giving them to people in need — whether those gifts be physical donations or volunteer time?

Jean Shafiroff, known around Manhattan as “New York’s First Lady of Philanthropy,” sits on the boards of a number of charities and is the author of Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life By What You Give. Her philosophy? Giving is about more than just money, and there’s more than one way to make an impact in your community or around the world.

Here are her tips for setting your kid up for a lifetime of charitable acts — even when that elf on the shelf isn’t watching.

Explain Why You Give To Charity

When talking to kids about charity, keep it simple and relate it to their world. “You can explain it as, ‘not every family is like ours,’ or ‘there are many others who have less than we do,’” says Shafiroff. “If a child learns at a young age that there’s always someone who has less than he or she does, when they get older they’ll want to give back.”

Use your judgement as far as how much detail on a particular topic they can handle for their age, but try to make the conversation about more than just who in their class does and doesn’t have an Xbox.

Make Involvement An Everyday Thing

Charity starts at home. Or at least a few blocks from home. Shafiroff recommends parents not only lead by example by joining a local charity or community planning board, but also by taking older kids to sit in (and speak up at) meetings.

School is probably the first place you’ll be asked to help out, so throw yourself into those activities. Whenever her daughter’s school had a bake sale, Shafiroff would be right in the kitchen with the kids making brownies. “They were always very proud to participate, and we would talk about the importance of the money raised,” she says. That’s also a good way to make sure it doesn’t turn into an overbaked sale.

Teach Them How To Drive

As in collecting books, toys, and clothes. Your kid’s school might already be holding a seasonal collection, or you can make a point of cleaning out the house as a family and giving things away on a regular basis. Shafiroff says the gesture goes a long way — for the recipients and for your kids — if they can experience it together. Instead of just dropping that stuff of at the Salvation Army, she suggests skipping the middleman and going to that children’s hospital or homeless shelter yourselves. Just check with the institution first to be sure they’re taking donations.

Have Them Volunteer Without Parental Supervision

There will be a time when charity becomes second nature to your kid. That’s when it’s time for them to take the lead. Check with places like animal shelters, senior homes, and soup kitchens, because they often have volunteer age restrictions or adult supervision requirements. Then, vet the place to make sure an elementary schooler will get something from the experience.

“You want to make sure your child is in the hands of someone reliable and trustworthy, and the work should be appropriate,” says Shafiroff. “It shouldn’t be getting coffee or running errands; it should be an effective volunteer job.” There’ll be plenty of time for mundane unpaid labor when they land their first internship.

Check That The Charity Is Legit

Whether it’s time or money, you want to know that your gift is going to have a real impact. That’s not always an easy thing to ask the front desk. “The average person isn’t going to ask for the profit and loss statement or tax records of a charity, but you could get it on sites like GuideStar, Charity Navigator, or the Better Business Bureau,” says Shafiroff. “A charity should have a good rating, use its money wisely, and the money they’re using should go for the causes it states.” Generally, their overhead shouldn’t be higher than 20% of all revenue, and the rest should go towards programs. You know, the stuff that actually helps people.

Snap A Photo

You don’t need to be totally obnoxious about your “Here’s the whole fam delivering turkeys to the less fortunate” Instagrams, but Shafiroff does say that word of mouth, particularly on social media, is huge for causes. The way she sees it, “by talking about something and getting the word out, you’re an active philanthropist.” So, if they must selfie, why not make sure it’s in service of something besides likes.

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