6 ideas to help children learn to live generously

Happy Giving Tuesday! I love the reminder to continue giving, especially during a season that can be consumed with so many distractions and even downright greed.

Giving as a family is incredibly important. We have made it a priority in our family and try to involve our kids as much as possible. However, when I talked to them about it just this morning, they didn’t realize everything we do. They knew some of it, but not all of it. And they hadn’t thought about how some of what we do is giving without spending money. We need to be even more intentional about showing and talking with them about giving and what we’re doing.

I’ve heard people say that children need to be taught how to give, because it goes against our human nature. That’s true to an extent. Just try asking a toddler to share his favorite toy with you! But, I’ve also seen the innocence of my kids when we see someone holding a sign asking for work or food on the roadside. They’d ask why the person was there and why didn’t we help him or her? In their little minds, if someone needs help, you give it. That’s the attitude we have tried to encourage and build on.

I think we all want to teach our kids how to give and how to look out for others. We’ve found a few ways to do that as a family. And we’ll continue working on it and talking about it even more. We have done our best to involve our kids as much as possible.

1. Help kids start a fund for giving.

When our children turned 5, they started getting a weekly allowance based on their ages (a dollar per year). We use an envelope system with them. They have an envelope for saving, spending and giving. For example, at 5, the money is divided each week as $3 for saving, $1 for spending and $1 for giving. And then we talk about how they want to spend their giving money every month or two as it accumulates.

When we first did this with our daughter, I assumed she’d want to just give her money in the offering at church. But when we asked her, she wanted to do something more tangible. So as we talked about it with her, we decided to buy food for a local food pantry. 

Since then, that has taken off. We have matched her money to buy food and so have my parents. And then she had a chance to help distribute food from a food pantry out of a local church. She decided then that we needed to do more. So we talked with our pastor and asked church members to bring in food that we take to the pantry. That’s been three years ago, and we are still involved with that same food pantry. It all started with a few dollars in a giving envelope.

2. Find tangible ways to give.

For us, the food pantry has been a very tangible way to give that has continued. Our kids love going to the store, finding good deals and figuring out things like how many cans of food we can buy with the money they have or how many rolls of toilet paper we can get. We have done our best to ask each time we take items to the food pantry about what the pantry needs most, because we also want to be actually helpful.

(For the record, our food pantry requests toiletries the most throughout the year, because these things are in high demand since they’re not covered by food stamps. During the holiday season, they need holiday dinner type food and cash to buy turkeys or hams.)

Our son has enjoyed working with and helping get things for the food pantry, but he’s had some other ideas as well. We try to encourage them however they’re thinking of giving. Sometimes our kids have thought of giving money to a family member who needed something. Other times they have wanted to give it to church or for a special offering. And still other times they want to give it to a different charity.

Locally, for example, we have an organization that collects money to provide Christmas to families who can’t afford it otherwise. Our church works with this charity (its founder attends our church, in fact) and so does the kids’ school. They love being able to be involved with that, too.

3. Make giving fun.

It doesn’t take much to make most giving fun. For example, my kids find it fun to even be involved in the process of deciding what to buy for the food pantry. Last time around my son used his money to buy a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. It wasn’t what we were there for that day. That day we were focusing on canned foods and toiletries, but it was his money and I’m sure that box of cereal went to good use. Usually on trips to the grocery store, they aren’t involved with the decisions of what to buy since I’m in charge of that. So having a chance to pick things out is fun for them.

Their school does a great job of making giving fun this time of year, especially. For that local Christmas charity, the kids could bring in money to vote for which team of teachers would win a silly race. They could also spend $1 to send a note with a piece of candy to a classmate. My kids each got a kick out of sneaking to the office to do this for each other. 

4. Remind them why they’re giving.

Everyone likes a bit of encouragement and cheering on. Should we give to get credit and accolades? Nope. But, kids do need to be encouraged and reminded of why they are giving. We try to talk about all the families who will be helped through the food pantry or other programs. We talk about what it would be like to come home from school and not be able to find any food in the pantry for a snack or wonder if there would be anything to eat for dinner. And we remind them that their giving is helping some families avoid that reality.

5. Volunteer together.

Just like I was telling my kids this morning, there are also ways to give that don’t involve spending money. In fact, spending your time is just as important. This is an area where we need to work more on our kiddos. They don’t always see the things we do as giving of our time. And that’s OK, but I want to encourage them to do the same. 

While they have helped with the food pantry, there are other volunteer opportunities around the community that they can be involved with as well. We have struggled to do organized volunteer activities the last few years as I’ve had some more intense health issues than usual, but we’ve still found ways. For a year and a half, I taught a children’s Sunday School class and my own kids loved to help me prepare and test out crafts for me.

I also reminded them that giving to others can even be as simple as seeing a friend or family member who needs help with something and jumping right in to assist. Opportunities to give to others abound around us if we just open our eyes to see them.

6. Be an example for them.

Last week, my husband was gone the entire week. He missed having Thanksgiving with us. We missed him tremendously, but we also supported him being gone. He began working with Team Rubicon a couple of months ago as a volunteer. Team Rubicon is a non-profit organization of volunteers that sends people to areas of disaster to help aid in cleaning up and rebuilding. Once he got his FEMA certification, he was ready to go help.

So two Saturdays ago my husband left for Florida to help clean up from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Before he left, we had a family discussion about it over dinner and let the kids ask questions. They were curious what he’d be doing, but they were also curious why he was doing it.

He told them that he felt like if there was something he could do then he should do it. He also said sometimes you have to let yourself be the answer to someone’s prayer. While giving money is good and helpful, sometimes you need to literally be God’s hands and feet. I don’t think there is any better answer than that as to why to give.

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About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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