I’ll admit it right up front–it’s hard. It takes long hours of commitment. Days. Years. No, it really takes a lifetime to encourage a natural bent toward kindness in your child.
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Encouraging a passion for philanthropy in your children is not for the weak-at-heart, minimal-time-to-invest parent. But I’ll admit, maybe it was so arduous for me to inspire philanthropy because it never came naturally for me. This idea of working hard so you can help others was not one I ever considered much. As a teen, I had no interest in working hard, but when I did work, it was most certainly for ME.
So as a mom, from the time they were toddlers, I was eager to cultivate a different mindset in my children. Asking them to look outside of themselves and see needs in others, then, at least once in a while, consider how they can help fill that need. I’m not talking about delivering meals to third world countries; it started tiny, with simple acts.
Simple Acts of Philanthropy for a Child
…sharing sidewalk chalk with neighbor friends, even when the chalk was almost gone.
…making a thoughtful gift out of something simple. For us, it’s often picking a bouquet of wildflowers that creep along our old stone wall in our back field, wrapping a ribbon around them, and taking them to someone who could use a smile.
…spending an hour doing chores for an elderly friend who’s recovering from surgery.
…stopping by the nursing home with a game in hand to play with someone who looks lonely.
…taking a cute visitor, like a baby bunny from the farm, to visit a neighbor who would like some company.
…baking bread and taking it to a new mom.
They were all pretty little things, but they were hard for me. Hard to think of. Hard to find the hour or two in a busy day to do them. But never hard to convince my toddlers or elementary children that we should do them. (Okay, except for the sidewalk-chalk sharing. That was hard when they were toddlers.)
So it was natural for my daughter to think of a way one small idea might be able to help other kids. But when she came up with this idea that just might, maybe, someday help kids with cancer in some tiny, round-about way, I almost ignored it. (It seemed rather silly, after all.) If I had known how many long days, for how many years, she and her sisters would work on her idea and still now, three years later, not see it reach fruition, well, I’m sure I would have ignored her.
But instead, seeing a glimmer of a way to encourage philanthropy in my then 9-year-old, I jumped on board. I encouraged. I helped her email and call some people who may be able to help her. I took her to day camp in Philadelphia that encouraged the entrepreneur side of her endeavor. I drove her and her sisters many days, and evenings, into the city to meet with professionals who wanted to help. (If you knew how the back of my neck swells in hives and my eyes start to well up with tears at the mere thought of parallel parking, you’d understand how difficult city meetings were for me.)
I invested time, and I cheered them on. That’s really all I did. I can’t take credit for what blossomed from one 9-year-old’s small idea about even smaller Artist Trading Cards, but boy I’m glad I’m along for the ride.
Encouraging Philanthropy to Come Naturally
I’m no expert–like I said, philanthropy is not a mindset that ever comes naturally to me–but here’s a few things I’ve learned the last 20 years of trying hard to make sure it WAS a mindset that came naturally to my daughters…
…Notice even tiny opportunities to help your children look outside of themselves and think of small ways to help someone else. If they participate in the Artist Trading Card trade, they could make a few extra ATCs to mail or give to someone who would like a gift of art.
…Devote time to it. Write in on your calendar if you need to. “Call Mrs. Gray and ask what yard work we can do today” on next Tuesday. Or “Make cookies for Mr. James” on Thursday. Or “Ask Sally to make sidewalk art with us” on Saturday.
…Listen closely to even silly little ideas your young one comes up with and help them decide if they can use their idea to help someone else or to bring joy to someone else’s day.
…Offer help. Assure your child, with your genuine interest, that you will put in more time, over the long haul. Don’t let them easily give up on their idea. They will need a cheerleader and encourager when they realize their idea will take patience and effort.
…Keep listening when they’re teens, and keep investing time into their efforts. If you’ve been investing time over the years, and encouraging a passion for philanthropy since they were “knee high to a grasshopper” (as my father would say), even as teens they will continue to think outside of themselves. They’ll listen when you point out a little idea of theirs that could make a big impact in others’ lives.
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38
“Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous… to give and not to count the cost.” — Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” — Anne Frank (1929-45)
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