In his recent article, Are You Teaching Your Kids to Be Generous?,Tim Meisenheimer discusses the topic of nurturing generosity in our families and helping our children develop charitable lives. While the article briefly outlines three points to help teach generosity, we want to deep dive on the last point made by Mr. Meisenheimer - the area of opportunity in giving.
We, as adult human beings, have opportunities to give on a daily basis. There are certainly times in every person’s day, regardless of social status, wealth, occupation and any other factor common among people, when the opportunity to be charitable arises. An opportunity to lend a hand, say a kind word, give a couple of dollars, stand up for what is right, drive the extra mile, hold a hand, make a call, and so on - there are just too many ways to be charitable for it not to occur daily in our lives. Heck, even the convicted criminals in solitary confinement can offer up a charitable prayer on a daily basis. Opportunity abounds.
This truth raises the obvious question: If opportunity abounds around us every day, are we taking advantage of opportunities to be charitable?
It is likely that we are being charitable on a more frequent basis than we acknowledge. In other words, we are giving more frequently than we are registering the giving. This is not a bad thing. Nothing good comes out of a person keeping track of all the good they do. In the words of Jesus, “When giving to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” However, regardless of the frequency of generous acts completed, there are most assuredly opportunities that we do not act on daily and these opportunities tend to stick out in our minds. We remember the time that we passed by the guy changing his tire or the times we heard the jingling of coins in our pocket as we walked right past the street beggar’s cup. They are CAPITALIZED AND BOLDED in our minds.
However, it may not be exactly the same in the minds of children. Children pick up on everything, both good and bad, as far as actions are concerned. They have not been tainted by decades of existence here in the world. They are not prone to concentrate on negative attributes, as we tend to be in our own lives. Therefore, a child can see and register both good and bad actions with equal gravity. Children are easily the truest barometers of good and bad actions that we have available here in the world.
Great, but how does this apply to teaching generosity to our children?
- Point One: Your children are watching. If you wish to convey an attitude of generosity and propagate charity within your heritage, you have simply to act on your daily opportunities to give. Your children will pick it up for sure.
- Point Two: Children pick up the good and the bad equally. Times of giving and times of missed opportunities to give stick out in their minds! Acts of lost charitable opportunity, whether originating from their own actions or from actions they spectate, become markers in their learned experience. We may not see them as teaching moments, but when our objective is to promote generosity in our children, every time we face a charitable transaction is a teaching moment. Acts of extraordinary generosity are viewed and learned. When our children see these acts portrayed in the lives of those they respect and love, they begin to define core values for their lives.
Let us offer a simple example: We have an eMiter that contributes every month to projects at eMite. Giving done by this individual is extraordinary for reasons that we will not delve into, but just understand that a statement is being made through this person’s generosity. A sibling of this individual has been viewing these acts of generosity over the last year and just recently joined in the giving by contributing their own Mite to an ongoing project. That is learned generosity. That is opportunity being turned into action and action being turned into a core value.
- Point Three: So often when we discuss opportunities in giving we focus our attention on making monetary gifts or large donations. These are certainly opportunities to give. But as Mr. Meisenheimer points out in his article, giving opportunities may be found in so many other ways, like helping a young widow rake the leaves in her yard. The key to training a child in generosity is not as much a factor of type or size of gift, as it is the intentionality of the giving. For our children, generous acts done intentionally will have the greatest potential to influence their core value system. Therefore intentional charity should be illustrated to our children, not for self aggrandizement or pride, but to lead by example and to inspire joyfully the goodness of giving.
So, if training in generosity and passing on a heart for charity is important to you, we encourage you to show your children how to give. Make sure they understand that charity is a priority in your life. Take every opportunity, no matter the size or type of generous act, to display before your child a giving life. If opportunities to give are missed, talk about them. Talk about improving next time. Be intentional in your giving and in training your child in generosity. Remember that your child prioritizes those things that he or she sees done in your life with purpose. Those things become values established in their own lives and actions of generosity acted upon when the opportunity arises for them.