A bunch of kids picking up recycling and garbage from a green space

Family Health

Easy Ways to Get Young Kids to Start Giving Back

Oct 2, 2017

As a mother on social media, it’s not unusual to see online videos of kids doing something exceptional. Whether it’s a seven-year-old boy who started a recycling business to “keep plastic out of the ocean” or a 6-year-old girl who started a lemonade stand to help pay for other student’s lunches, somehow the algorithm knows that feeding these videos to moms will evoke all the feels.

These videos are inspirational, admirable, heartwarming and seemingly totally unattainable, which elicits those very special mom-feels: inadequacy and guilt. How are these kids so ambitious and community-minded? I’m sure my kid could never do something as amazing as that!

The thing is, kids are great at giving and caring. Given the chance, they want to help. Here are some ways your family can start to get involved with volunteering, philanthropy and giving back.

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Start small, in both action and in age

One of the misconceptions about volunteering is that, for children, official opportunities don’t exist. It’s certainly one that I held. In my research, all the volunteer positions seemed to be for teenaged children, which were unsuitable for my 10-year-old. Then I asked my friend community for ideas and realized that capital-V volunteering is merely one part of teaching kids to give back. Instead, when kids are young, it’s more important to engage them in small, meaningful acts of kindness.

The thing is, kids are great at giving and caring. Given the chance, they want to help.

My friend Sarah in Toronto recommended helping at a toy drive. Natalie in Peterborough suggested food bank sorting and helping at a community garden. Jocelyn said her daughter spent time as a cat cuddler with Toronto Cat Rescue. Many take their kids to visit seniors. And my friend Sarah’s girls seem to do it all: donating stuffies, selling glow sticks, marshalling charity runs, fundraising themselves, giving chocolates for seniors... Honestly, if I didn’t love her and her kids so much I’d be jealous.

One recurring suggestion, however, was to tie giving into kids’ birthdays. Certainly EchoAGE has allowed kids to share the spoils of their birthday with a chosen cause, but others help their kids connect more meaningfully with the people they’re helping. 

Mary-Jo Dionne says she started the practice of using birthdays as a way to give back when her daughters were as young as two and four.

“At each of their birthday parties, rather than have guests bring gifts, we put out a basket and collect baby food for the foodbank. (Fear not, my kids still get lots of gifts as it is.) They come with me to deliver the baby food to the foodbank and we talk about how some kids were born into families who may not have enough money to buy food, and it's important to have compassion for these people.”

For Mary-Jo, sharing the joy of giving with her girls is rooted in her own upbringing, a topic she discussed in a wonderful TEDx talk that illustrates no age is too young and no gesture too small when it comes to sharing abundance.

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Make giving a daily habit

Jacqueline Way discovered the power of daily giving when her son was only three. She suggested to him (declared, perhaps) on his birthday that they were going to commit to giving back to the world every day for 365 days. She started a blog to log their progress: gestures were as simple as picking up garbage at the park in her Vancouver neighbourhood or speaking kindly to siblings.

The practice has evolved into a global movement, 365Give, one that works with schools to motivate children to give every day, create positive school cultures and measure the positive social impact that giving has one the world.

Kids hold signs that say:
Photo courtesy of 365Give

Jacqueline says that giving is a learned behavior. “It’s something that needs to become a habit in a child’s life. It’s like teaching math; kids don’t learn the first time they do it. It’s a repeated behaviour that they have to do over and over again for it actually to stick with it.”

“It’s like teaching math; kids don’t learn the first time they do it. It’s a repeated behaviour that they have to do over and over again for it actually to stick with it.”

She shares the view that giving doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture, like fundraising (though it certainly can be). It can be simple acts of kindness. “If a child sits on a bench with the kid who no one will play with and hangs out with him, that’s a daily give. If they pick up garbage from the playground, that’s it. If it’s putting positive notes around the school, that’s it. It’s the really simple things we’re celebrating that we know kids can do at a grassroots levels.”

The key to daily giving success, she says, is to celebrate rather than reward the kids’ activities, and to let them decide how they want to help others.

“As adults, we almost limit our children because we don’t believe what they can do if we let them. They have far more ability and creativity than we do as adults at times,” she says. “When we foster this sense of altruism, philanthropy, giving, whatever you want to call it, it’s innately built into all of us. It’s part of our brain chemistry and we just have to bring that out. This is how we create the next generation of leaders to think about our world differently.”

Article Author Rae Ann Fera
Rae Ann Fera

Read more from Rae Ann here.

Rae Ann Fera is an experienced freelance writer, editor, content curator and content producer. She is curious about how things work and what motivates people to do what they do. Rae Ann has frequently written on media, creative technology and travel. The parent of a 10-year-old girl, she gardens when she's supposed to write, writes when she's supposed to cook dinner, and will drop everything to listen to a good story or indulge in a snuggle (while they last!). She's currently working on a book about her experiences with adoption, which really means her garden looks fantastic.

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