Baer: Cultivating a giving spirit in children

Posted 12/29/20

As vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service, I have the rare privilege of working with individuals and families who transform others’ lives.

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Baer: Cultivating a giving spirit in children


As vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service, I have the rare privilege of working with individuals and families who transform others’ lives.

Their generosity exemplifies the giving spirit of our community. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we live and interact, our perseverance has helped us find new ways to connect with and help those in need.

But how do we maintain this thread of kindness even after the pandemic has passed? I believe the answer lies with our children.

Young people of all ages benefit from being generous and caring about others. I have seen it firsthand in my children and by observing other families who are personally engaged in charitable giving. If you want happy, well-adjusted children, it is important to teach them to be compassionate. If you want your children to be tomorrow’s leaders, teach them to help others.

Teaching children to be empathetic — yes, I believe empathy can be learned and cultivated — can make them more likable and conscience-driven. Children learn by watching and observing their parents. We have a real opportunity to model a generous spirit. If this sounds good to you, I have a few suggestions.

Together with your children, step out of comfort zones, open their eyes and expose them to others’ lives. The current pandemic provides a unique opportunity for inspiring generosity and engagement for good. So many of our friends and neighbors need assistance. The power of physically being in an unfamiliar location allows children to imagine life in someone else’s shoes, even for a short period of time.

As parents, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This means spending time outside of our neighborhoods, at a shelter, food bank or other social service agency that provides immediate relief for individuals facing a crisis.

Involve your children with financial giving. Giving can start at any age. It doesn’t matter if your child has $1 or $50 or $500. Can you imagine if everyone allotted a small percentage of their earnings to helping others or a designated charity? If your kids receive an allowance, talk to them about allocating a small amount to help others.

Unlock the family philanthropy ledger and make a plan. Family giving should be part of a plan. Without being too specific, it is okay to give your children a basic understanding of how much you give financially to charitable organizations.

Perhaps discuss the approximate percentage of your income that you give to charity. Talk to them about why you choose these organizations. Allocate a certain portion of the family’s philanthropy to be decided by your children, and let them make those decisions. What an opportunity to empower their generosity! You will also find out what moves them inside their hearts and minds.

Prioritize empathy and be a role model for children. Giving should be routine, and it shouldn’t just be something adults do. Cleaning out closets and donating gently used items is something everyone can have a hand in. Cook as a family and share meals with those who may feel isolated. If your kids don’t like to cook, get them outside and have them do yard work for a neighbor who may not be able to get outside.

Encourage them to send hand-written notes to loved ones or seniors in your community. Be sure to acknowledge when kids are being charitable and helpful. Good things come from hard work and they also come when helping others. Kids mimic what they learn at home. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a role model.

No matter how your family chooses to give, know that organizations who are the recipients of your generosity will always be grateful for the support of your time and resources.

Your children will also be leading the next generation in creating a more caring, compassionate community for all.

Gail Baer is the vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. JFCS is a nonprofit, non-sectarian organization that strengthens the community by providing behavioral health, healthcare and social services to all ages, faiths and backgrounds. JFCS’ goal is for a future where families are strong, elders are cared for and children are safe.