Nurturing the Spirit of Giving in Kids

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

The holiday season is about giving, but we often times “get” more than we give. Teach your kids to help others by being generous not only during the holidays, but as they continue to grow—year after year— into empathetic adults. Learn what research says about why giving is important >

How does teaching kids to give make a difference? Here’s what research says:

  • Young people who volunteer learn many life skills, such as responsibility, punctuality, reliability, and getting along with others.
  • Young people who give improve the community, and they see themselves as making a difference, which empowers them to contribute even more.
  • 55% of all young people volunteer and help others.
  • Young people are much more likely to volunteer and give when they have parents and/or siblings who also do so.
  • Young people are more likely to volunteer and give as adults if they start when they’re young.
  • Young people who give and volunteer are more likely to make positive choices (such as succeeding in school and valuing diversity).
  • Young people who give and volunteer are less likely to get into trouble and take risks, such as drinking alcohol.

As a family, we’ve done a number of giving projects together during the holidays. Every December, we sit down with our kids and talk about the social issues they’re concerned about. One year, my son was worried about the diminishing cheetah population in Africa. Another year, my other son wanted to help victims of a hurricane. We then researched charities through Charity Navigator to discover which charities to donate to.

A number of charities create catalogs (and websites) that make giving more fun. Some of our family favorites are Heifer International, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Since many people and families volunteer during the holiday season, we decide how we want to volunteer and then make plans to do so in January, when the holiday buzz has died down, and the kids start getting bored and stir crazy. We even do many volunteer projects from our kitchen table. Get ideas at Doing Good

When you make giving and caring a part of your family life, your kids are much more likely to give and care on their own. Now that both of my kids are older (I have one in college and one in high school), I’m amazed at how quickly they notice volunteer opportunities and want to help out. They’re also much more globally aware and talk about social concerns and what we can do to make the world a better place. This is not only a great attitude to have during the holidays but also a great attitude to have every day throughout the year—and throughout our lives.

Learn more about creating meaningful holiday rituals >

Tell Us:——> How do you volunteer? What’s your family’s favorite charity or cause?

1. Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, Volunteering in America 2010: National, State, and City Information (Washington, D.C.: Corporation for National and Community Service, June 2010).

2. Gabina Torres, “The Future of Volunteering: Children Under the Age of 14 as Volunteers,”, December 2003.

3. Corporation for National and Community Service, Issue Brief: Youth Helping America (Washington, D.C.: Corporation for National and Community Service, November 2005).

4. Virginia A. Hodgkinson and Murray S. Weitzman, Volunteering and Giving among Teenagers 12 to 17 Years of Age: Findings from a National Survey (Washington, D.C.: Independent Sector, 1997).

5. Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain, Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities (Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2010).

6. Serving Others, ParentFurther.

7. Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, ParentFurther.

8. Charity Santa Run photo via Howard Lake on Flick’r.

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