The message of giving is all around us now. That makes the holiday season a good time to develop philanthropic habits in children.
Children are empathetic by nature, but charitable impulses need nurturing in a climate in which kids are bombarded with messages to look out for No. 1, philanthropy experts say.
"There's so much media blasting them all the time about the things they need to get themselves," says Susan Crites Price, author of "The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others." "We really need to counter those images and show how they can give back to others."
You can start lessons on sharing and giving to others before children reach kindergarten. The earlier you start, the more likely giving will become a lifelong practice. But as well-meaning as your intentions are, don't force the issue. You don't want them to grow up thinking that donating and volunteering are punishments to be avoided.
Here are some tips:
Get very young children involved with giving through small acts, such as throwing money into a collection plate at a house of worship, dropping loose change in a bell ringer's kettle or taking them with you when you volunteer.
As children get older, encourage them to volunteer or give their own money. Price says some parents pay children who volunteer with the understanding that the money would be used for charitable purposes. Or, encourage giving by matching your child's contributions, say, dollar for dollar.
Be reasonable if you're setting guidelines on how much your child should donate, says Carol Weisman, author of "Raising Charitable Children." She hears kids gripe that they must donate a higher percentage of their allowances or birthday money to charity than what Mom and Dad give. Demand too much and kids will begrudge giving.
Let children decide where they donate their money. "Find out what their passions are," Price says. "Those will change over time."
Once you know the causes your child cares about, search online together at GuideStar.org for charities involved in those missions. You can read about the charities and how they spend their money on GuideStar.
If your child doesn't have money or doesn't want to part with a penny, encourage volunteering. Look for activities that will interest them.
Don't require a child to make a large time commitment. Let children try volunteering at different places to find out what interests them, Price says.
Children can also volunteer close to home by, say, helping elderly neighbors with yardwork. Or, encourage volunteering when it's your birthday by asking your child to do something nice for someone else as a gift to you, Weisman says.
Involve children when you're deciding where the family donates each year.