6 tips for raising generous kids
Easy ways to teach important lessons about the value of money
SMARTPHONES, VIDEO GAMES, THE HOTTEST TOYS, CELEBRITY SNEAKERS. You name it, your kids probably want it. And, of course, as a parent, you want to please your kids. But you also recognize the importance of establishing a charitable mindset from an early age.
“The question we often get from families is, ‘How do I raise children to be generous, grounded and responsible adults?’” says Matthew Wesley, a managing director in the Merrill Center for Family WealthTM. “Philanthropy can be a core tool to help you address that.”
In a 2020 study, children ages 4 to 6 played a game where they were asked to donate tokens. Heart rate activity showed that they experienced a physical sense of soothing after they gave, and those who mothers scored higher on a compassion scale were found more likely to be generous.1 To start the conversation about giving with your kids, Wesley suggests the following tips.
Generosity is a concept you can introduce as early as preschool age by teaching your children to share their toys. “Some families tell their kids, ‘If you get a new toy, choose one of your old toys and give it to someone else,’” notes Matthew Wesley, a managing director in the Merrill Center for Family WealthTM.
One approach many families take, Wesley says, is to have their children divide their allowances into four parts: to save, spend, invest and share. You can be a role model here. Let’s say you give 10% of your income to charity — urge your children to do the same. Or encourage them to set their own giving goal.
Talk to your kids about the causes you support and why they’re important to you. Then suggest that they choose a cause they want to support,” says Wesley. Start by asking them to think about their own interests and hobbies. If they’re animal lovers, you can help them raise money for the local zoo or humane society. “We’ve had families that were big sports families, and they got the kids involved in supporting soccer camps for at-risk youth.” Wesley says. While the cause they pick might not be important to you, you want them to be excited by what their gift can support.
Sure, you could go through your children’s closets solo to find clothes or toys to give away, but you’d be missing a valuable opportunity if you did. Instead, make this a teachable moment, suggests Wesley. Have your child help you select what they don’t need anymore, then take them along when you drop off the donation. (They’ll get a bonus lesson in sustainability as they learn that their old stuff can be useful to someone else.) If you’re buying gifts for a family in need during the holidays, involve your children in the shopping and wrapping.
If your family contributes money to certain causes throughout the year, you have a few ways to make that a learning experience, too. Let your older children research and choose a cause that means something to them. Or collect everyone’s donation money in one jar and decide, as a family, what you’ll do with it. Think about which lesson you want to teach — freedom of choice, or being part of a group decision. “It depends on what skills are important to build in your family. Some families combine these approaches, asking each child to give separately, then giving collectively as siblings, and then making a contribution as a family,” says Wesley.
You want charitable giving to feel like an invitation, not a requirement, notes Wesley. Kids should donate because they’re truly engaged in the process. One effective way to keep encouraging them is by showing them the impact. It can help kids develop financial skills — and character. “Consider bringing your child to visit the organization they’re giving to,” Wesley suggests. “Set up a meeting with the development director — most are delighted to offer a tour and talk about what the gifts to their organization accomplish.”
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