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5 Ways to Raise a Kid Who Gives Back

We’ve all been there as parents—bummed by our kids’ seeming lack of empathy. Though it’s tempting to shout, “Are you really telling me that you won’t give a Jenga set that you never even opened to a homeless child?,” that won’t get you anywhere. Instead, make it consistently clear that giving to those in need is important. You do it, and so should he. Try these strategies to grease the wheels.

1. Start a charitable matching plan. Pro fundraisers have long known that people give more to charity when their money is matched—say, when a donor announces that she’ll chip in $1,000 if $1,000 is raised within a certain period. You can do a variation of this with your child, offering to kick in a dollar of yours for every one she gives to a charity she cares about.

2. Don’t ignore people who ask for money. Anyone who lives in (or has visited) a large city has likely been asked for cash while walking down the street with her kid. Some people throw a buck in the hat, while others feel that doling out dollars to panhandlers isn’t a good idea. Either way, you shouldn’t pretend you don’t see or hear the person in need. Saying something like “Sorry, not today” is a better, more compassionate response. If your personal policy is not to give, let your teen know how you direct your charitable dollars instead.

3. Stay local. With natural and humanitarian disasters making headlines with alarming frequency, it’s understandable that a kid would be drawn in and want to help. But it can be difficult  to connect the dollars raised at bake sales to, say, the needs of tsunami victims on another continent. Choose nearby activities that kids can see through from contribution to payoff. Keeping your giving local will also give your child a window on issues affecting your community that you might not otherwise be aware of, such as hunger or homelessness. For a kid who’s into animal rights, raising money to buy kibble, then purchasing it and delivering it to a shelter can be rewarding and fun.

4. Talk about why you give, and why your kid should too. Simply modeling charitable behavior—by having your child witness that you donate time or money—isn’t enough. To turn him into a giver, you need to talk about what you are doing and why it’s important. That’s the surprising finding of a 2013 study by the United Nations Foundation and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. When researchers tracked the charitable behaviors of 903 kids over the course of six years, those whose parents talked to them about giving were more likely to contribute to a cause than those whose parents donated money but didn’t discuss why it was important. Don’t worry that you’ll appear to be bragging about your good deeds—just explain what cause you’re contributing to, the way that money will help specifically and how the donation fits into your overall budget.

5. Don’t overpraise your kid’s charitable efforts. A 13-year-old named Kim told me about the time she and her friend Ana volunteered at a shelter to sort donated clothes. After a couple of hours, Ana’s mom picked up the girls, and then went on and on about how important the work they had done was and how extraordinary the girls were to volunteer. “Her mom was so over the top it essentially killed the whole experience,” said Kim. “It isn’t about how it makes me feel, it’s about doing the work.” Smart kid. Your job as a parent is to help your child develop the lifelong habit of giving to those in need, not to infuse a holier-than-thou “Aren’t we generous?!” vibe into any and all acts of philanthropy, even small ones. Keep your eye on what matters.

From Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You're Not): A Parents’ Guide for Kids 3 to 23 by Beth Kobliner. Copyright © 2017 by Beth Kobliner. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.