As a former elementary school teacher who has worked at inner city schools, I have witnessed firsthand the dire straits of many students’ lives. Even after decades of dedicating myself to finding ways to improve the way children learn, live and thrive, I am as passionate today as I was when I first began my journey as an educator. After some time as a teacher, I had three small children of my own at home, all of whom I promised I would raise to understand the importance of giving back. In a sense, my children helped spark my philanthropy, and I’d like to think I sparked theirs.
Though I would love to take credit for raising three philanthropists, there are many factors that make a person charitable. But there are ways a parent can nurture and shape a child’s idea of community by imbuing in them an obligation to act with compassion for their fellow humans.
Here are some ways in which I’ve been able to do so:
Charity Starts At Home
According to Talk About Giving, 71% of adult children with philanthropic parents go on to be philanthropists themselves, while only 47% children of parents who do not give become philanthropists.
Spending quality time with your family can include giving back to your community together. For instance, having a lemonade stand where the proceeds are donated to charity or volunteering at food drives are simple ways for a child to give back and network with other like-minded children. It will also help them see that giving can and does work. Make these activities fun and rewarding.
Teaching Without Tech
Computers and iPads away! The technology in which the world is run today is always evolving – trying to keep us “connected”, but how connected are people to each other when the ‘virtual barriers’ keep us from face-to-face time?
According to a recent Psychology Today article, “[…] too much screen time and not enough other activities, such as reading, playing games, and good old unstructured and imaginative play, will result in your children having their brains wired in ways that may make them less, not more, prepared to thrive in this crazy new world of technology.”
Family sports, board games, and lo-fi outdoor activities (picnics, hikes, etc) can shift focus to your children’s imaginations. Creating habits early on will set in them the routine of connecting to their world, each other, and others. When they are ready to leave the nest, they will already be armed with ways to unplug from tech, create their own paths, stay away from peer pressure, and plug in to what I think of as the real sort of connection — one to their fellow man and woman. If they equate giving back as being a positive, worthwhile experience, they are more likely to want to contribute on their own.
Walk Your Talk
Follow through and lead by example. Though it may not seem like it all the time, children idolize and emulate the actions of their parents, more so than their words. In fact, toddlers develop a sense of themselves by imitating their parents. In other words, copying you is part of their developmental process.
The best way you can evoke a sense of pride for philanthropy in your children is to exhibit that pride in your own actions. You are more likely to raise a philanthropist if you are one yourself. Pass on the spirit of giving by making it an everyday part of your life.
Show Them The Real World
Our first instinct is to shield our children from anything negative, which is of course a good thing, but be sure they know that there are people in the world who need our help. That is to say, I don’t recommend exposing children to all the horrible things that exist! Instead, involve them in all the ways in which philanthropy helps.
My children have always known how much I have devoted my heart to charities because I have always included philanthropy in our home conversations. The more children know how important giving back is, and why we give back, the more educated they will be when it is time for them to carry on charitable missions as adults.
What Are Their Passions?
What are they interested in? What are their passions? As a parent, you are in a position to see everyday what makes your children happy. They are more likely to take part in philanthropic activities if it is related to something they are interested in.
Have a toy drive or a bake sale, throw a fundraiser for books or camping trips. I believe that the earlier you impress on them that giving can be fun, the easier they’ll incorporate that sort of thinking into their day-to-day lives.
In my years of parenting and charity work, I’ve come to see that paying it forward carries a reward in itself. What I am most proud of is having raised 3 wonderfully giving and community-minded children. Lauren is CEO and co-founder of The FEED Foundation, which has made great strides toward eliminating world hunger with 90 million meals provided to hungry children; my daughter Ashley is a filmmaker who tutors abused women to help them earn their GED degree; and my son Pierce is the CEO of the Texas chapter of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Believe me, I did not spoil my children nor were they raised in an atmosphere of privilege. Instead, I encouraged them to be imaginative. Being able to see how my children have grown into amazingly giving adults is one of the greatest rewards for my philanthropy I’ve ever been given.
*Go to Sharon’s Huffington Post contributor page for more articles HERE
Talk About Giving Org (CHART)