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6 Tips for Raising Generous Kids

Easy ways to teach important lessons about the value of money

SMARTPHONES, VIDEO GAMES, THE HOTTEST TOYS, CELEBRITY SNEAKERS. You name it, your kids probably want it. And, of course, as a parent, you want to please your kids. But you also recognize the importance of establishing a charitable mindset from an early age. 

“The question we often get from families is, ‘How do I raise generous, grounded, responsible kids?,’” says Matthew Wesley, managing director of the Merrill Center for Family WealthTM. “Philanthropy can be a core tool to help you address that.”

Roughly six out of 10 young parents say they have talked about charitable giving or volunteerism with their children, according to a November 2017 study by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.1 To start the conversation with your kids, Wesley suggests the following tips.

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There is an image of a young boy in a yellow hoodie. He’s holding two toy cars and looking up towards the sky. text Reads: Let Sharing Be the First Lesson

Generosity is a concept you can introduce as early as preschool age by teaching your children to share their toys. “Some families tell their kids, ‘If you get a new toy, choose one of your old toys and give it to someone else,’” notes Matt Wesley, managing director of the Merrill Center for Family WealthTM.

There is an image of a young boy with glasses sitting at a table with a woman who could be his mother. He has a notepad and a pen in hand. In front of him is a table full of change—quarters, pennies, nickels and dimes. In the background sits a young boy and a man on a couch. Text Reads: Set a Giving Goal

One approach many families take, Wesley says, is to have their children divide their allowances into four equal parts: to save, spend, invest, and share. You can be a role model here. Let’s say you give 10% of your income to charity—urge your children to do the same. Or encourage them to set their own giving goal.

There is an image of a young girl who wears glasses. She’s sitting on the floor, smiling and laughing as a dog licks her face. Text Reads: Pick a Cause That’s Relatable

Talk to your kids about the causes you support and why they’re important to you. Then suggest that they choose a cause they want to support,” suggests Wesley. Start by asking them to think about their own interests and hobbies. If they’re animal lovers, you can help them raise money for the local humane society. “We’ve had families that were big sports families, and they got the kids involved in supporting soccer camps for at-risk youth.” Wesley says.

There is an image of a young girl in a jean jacket. She’s standing with a box in front of her. One of her hands holds an apple, and she’s putting the apple into a box. A number of other kids around her are also putting various items into boxes. Text Reads: Make Giving ‘Hands On’

Sure, you could go through your children’s closets solo to find clothes or toys to give away, but you’d be missing a valuable opportunity if you did. Instead, make this a teachable moment, suggest Wesley. Have your child help you select what they don’t need anymore, then take them along when you drop off the donation. (They’ll get a bonus lesson in sustainability as they learn that their old stuff can be useful to someone else.) If you’re buying gifts for a family in need during the holidays, involve your children in the shopping and wrapping.

There is an image of a girl and a woman. They are sitting on a bed with a laptop and two mason jars containing money in front of them. The older woman has a piece of paper that they are both looking at. Text Reads: Give Your Kids a Voice

If your family contributes money to certain causes throughout the year, you have a few ways to make that a learning experience, too. Let your children research and choose a cause that means something to them. Or collect everyone’s donation money in one jar and decide, as a family, what you’ll do with it. Think about which lesson you want to teach—freedom of choice, or being part of a group decision. “It depends on what skills are important to build in your family. Some families actually combine these approaches, asking each child to give separately, then giving collectively as siblings, and then making a contribution as a family,” says Wesley.

There is an image of a man and a young girl, who look to be father and daughter. They are in the girl’s bedroom. There are two cardboard box on the floor, and she is holding up clothing items to possibly put in the boxes. Text reads: Make giving engaging

You want charitable giving to feel like an invitation, not a requirement, notes Wesley. Kids should donate because they’re truly engaged in the process. One effective way to keep encouraging them is by showing them the impact. It can help kids develop financial skills—and character. “Consider doing a site visit of the organization your child gives to,” Wesley suggests. “Set a meeting with the development director—most are delighted to offer a tour and talk about what the gifts to their organization accomplish.”

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