Babies are wired to be selfish. Their survival depends on it – they have to put themselves first in order to make sure that they get everything they need. Humans are social animals, however, and that means that as they get older, they instinctively develop empathy. Other people’s wellbeing matters to them even before they’ve been told that it should, and this is a good starting point for teaching them about charity and the value of helping those in need.
The importance of sharing
The easiest way to start talking about charity with very young children is to discuss the importance of sharing. This is always an issue in group settings, whether at home, at kindergarten, or in social gatherings. It could mean making sure that every child present gets a toy to play with, or that every child gets to spend some time playing with the most popular toy. During drawing activities, it means that crayons should be passed around and swapped so that everybody can use the colors they want, instead of one child hoarding all the crayons in anticipation of needing those colors sooner or later. Working on group creative projects can help with explaining how things get done faster and more easily when materials are shared. It’s also important to talk about what it feels like to be a child who is left out, and to encourage children to ensure that others don’t end up in that situation.
More than money
When children are young, they may want to give some of their pocket money to charity, and it’s important to explain that even small donations make a difference. If they want to do more, they can try fundraising through activities such as yard sales or sponsored sports events, or they can be introduced to other forms of volunteering. Simple activities such as fetching groceries or clearing away snow for elderly neighbors are a great way to lend a hand and let them see the positive impact of what they’re doing directly. They also help with the development of adult life skills, and they can be fun to do – walking dogs for people who are struggling to do it themselves, for instance, is fun for all involved. Older children can get a lot out of activities that involve volunteering to help younger ones, and kids who are happiest alone in their rooms can still help others by taking part in online problem-solving initiatives aimed at beating cancer.
Types of charity
When they are young, children usually find it easiest to see the value in charity work that offers a lot of potential for empathy, whether it’s rescuing animals or feeding the hungry. As they get older, they can be introduced to other types of charity, such as educational charities, charities that provide housing and work to build up communities, medical charities, and scientific charities. Thinking about why people choose to support charities like this instead of those whose work may seem more urgent can help them to understand how long-term planning can prevent crises from developing – an important lesson for them to apply to their own lives.
Understanding these underlying frameworks behind the idea of charity can help children understand why some successful businesspeople engage in philanthropy. Learning about Charles Phillips’ work to help single parents or Bill Gates’ funding of vaccination campaigns, for instance, can encourage them to develop positive attitudes about the responsibility that comes with wealth and the impact that money can have when it’s used to make the world a better place instead of just to buy things.
Charity begins with small acts of kindness, and when it’s a commonplace subject of discussion in the home, it can be used to help children understand the value of kindness in day-to-day life. For instance, if a girl is willing to spend her Saturday afternoon participating in a sponsored swim to help hungry children in South Sudan, does it make sense for her to return home and fight with her sister over candy? By helping children to make comparisons like this, it’s possible to help them understand that anyone can be a recipient of charity – that it’s not about remote situations but can take place around us every day, and that sometimes people who have been helped by charities can go on to help others.
Understanding these issues not only helps children to do good in the world as they get older but also helps them to engage with the world more effectively and appreciate, all the more, the good things that they enjoy in their own lives.
Photo credit: Howard Lake on Flickr. CC-BY-SA 2.0.