My family has a lot to be thankful for. We’ve never gone hungry, we have warm clothes, all the necessities, and (if I’m being totally honest) excess. We don’t NEED all the toys and books and gadgets we have. We frequently have leftovers that end up spoiling in the refrigerator. And we take it for granted. But not everyone is that fortunate.
A friend of mine recently texted me, “I don’t know how to explain charity to C. His school sent home a jar for him to fill with change, and he doesn’t understand why we would just give money away.” She and I began brainstorming how you explain the concept of need to our young children.
Talk to Your Child
It’s sometimes hard to think of ways to explain things in ways a kid will understand. I think we underestimate our children sometimes though. When trying to teach your child about people and need and being charitable, speak bluntly. “Some people don’t have food. Some kids don’t get presents on their birthdays or for Christmas. Some people don’t have clothes to keep them warm. And some people have more than enough. People need to help others when they can. Just like when you can’t reach something and mommy or daddy help you get it, some people can’t buy food so other people need to help them get some.”
Include Your Pets
Did you get your dog or cat from the shelter? That’s another easy way to help a child understand need. “The animals at the shelter don’t have homes, so people adopt them and take them home. The animals waiting for someone to take them home still need help though.” Ask your child to brainstorm things the animals might need (food, blankets, water bowls, toys) and then discuss ways of helping.
One of the best ways to teach a child about something is to let them see it in action. *When you are given a paper heart to write your name on for donating a dollar at the grocery store, explain to your child who that dollar will help, and then let them write their name on it. *While you are grocery shopping, pick up a couple extra cans to drop in the food drive box by the door. Maybe even let your child pick the cans. *Set up a “donate bucket” in a designated spot in your home. When your child outgrows shoes or you notice they have stopped playing with a certain toy, ask them to put in the bucket. Make sure they are with you when you deliver the contents of the bucket to Goodwill (or the organization of your choice). *Keep a “Charity Jar” on the shelf. Fill it with spare change you find in the couch cushions or that fall out of pants while doing laundry.
Make It Part of Your Holiday Traditions
Find a local food bank that needs extra help packaging, sorting, or distributing food around the holidays. Make Christmas cards to take to nursing homes. Create a reverse Santa Sack for your kids (one filled with toys for Santa to take away). Choose an angel off an Angel Tree and let your child shop for the gifts. Have family members take turns selecting a charity each year to collect change for.
Charity doesn’t have to involve a trip to a specific organization or a big donation. If someone is on the sidewalk asking for change, it’s so easy to ignore or criticize them. However, if you have a dollar to spare, isn’t it worth it to maybe help someone truly in need if you can? If you aren’t comfortable giving money, maybe you have an extra snack in the bottom of your bag you can share (if you’re a mom of small children, you probably at least have a pack of crackers or fruit snacks). If the person is truly in need, they will appreciate it, and your child will see that even small acts can help. I try to keep extra umbrellas and blankets in the back seat of my car. These are items that are relatively cheap and easy to come by and can make a huge difference to someone who is stuck outside in the cold or rain, whether it is because they have nowhere else to go or they are stuck waiting for the bus to get them somewhere.
Children are capable of so much compassion. It is up to us as moms to teach it to them. We all tell our kids that sharing is caring. But we forget sometimes that the concept can be applied to so much more than just Legos and crayons.
How do you teach your children about charity and helping others? How do you continue throughout the year, and not just at the holidays?