"What's most compelling for kids is seeing their parents' joyful involvement for their own meaningful reasons," says Elizabeth Berger, child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers). If parents are generous and giving, kids are likely to adopt those qualities. So instead of saying that volunteerism makes the world a better place, show them your altruism. For example, prepare a dish for a charity meal while the kids are hanging out in the kitchen. Say something like, "Before I make dinner for our family, I have to finish this casserole, which will help raise money for an important cause." When you get back from the event, tell the kids how appreciative the charity organizers were. Try saying, "It made me feel good to help others who are less fortunate."
Even if your kids don't immediately follow your example, they probably will down the road—as long as they see you enjoying yourself, says Mary Gresham, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta.