Generosity is Caught, Not Taught


Concern for the welfare of others has long been a core virtue in most of the world’s societies. Parents today, regardless of faith, wealth, or background, want our children to grow into “good people” who are kind, generous, and think of others before themselves. But how do we pass on these lessons? I believe generosity isn’t so much ‘taught’ as it is ‘caught’.

Show Generosity

Modelling generosity is critical. As any adult who has let slip a word they’d rather not be repeated knows, children are always watching and copying what we do.

My parents were generous people who set a good example for me. Our home was open to visitors, they volunteered a great deal in the community, and they gave regular gifts to church and causes they believed in. Every Sunday, my Dad would write a cheque for the church offering plate and leave it on the table for mom to put in the plate. As a curious kid, I would sneak a peek at the amount of the cheque and then carefully put it back exactly as I had found it. One day the amount was larger than it had previously been. I didn’t know my parents financial affairs but I knew enough to know that it reflected that their financial situation had improved. That left a strong impression on me. It was a clear example of generosity which I caught from my parents.

I don’t think that I’m any more or any less generous than the average person. I think the difference is that I had people in my life who modeled generosity. Kids need to see the adults they look up to being generous with their time, talent, and treasure. The possibilities are endless: donating money to charities and causes, volunteering at church and community centres, opening your home to neighbours, or helping family and friends going through a difficult time. When we make generosity a normal part of our lives we increase the chances that our children will initiate their own generous choices.

Talk about Generosity

Many people from my generation don’t talk about their generosity for fear of boasting, but talking with kids about the giving you are doing, helps them make sense of the actions they are seeing. Explain how you prioritize giving in your household budget, or why you choose to support a particular charity. Generosity is an opportunity to start a frank and open discussion about the values that prompt you to give. In addition to explaining your own giving, take the time to recognize the times you see your kids being generous, and keep an eye out for opportunities to discuss the generosity you see in the world around you.

My grandmother made afghans and stuffed animals which she sold and then donated the proceeds to her favourite charity. She lived a simple life in a clean, yet sparse apartment when I was kid. I once asked her why she gave all the proceeds away rather than keeping some of it for herself and without batting an eye she said, “There are so many people who need it much more than I do.” Grandma wasn’t trying to teach me anything with her answer, but I certainly caught the message.

Experience Generosity

If children are to become generous adults, they need an opportunity to practice giving. Create space for kids to be cheerful givers. At first, this may be with you, but encourage them to seek out opportunities independently, too. Providing a weekly allowance from which they can give (coupled with the requisite guidance) can set the groundwork for long-term philanthropy. For those in a faith community, participating in a weekly offering can be an excellent opportunity for kids to practice regular generosity. You can also explore age-appropriate volunteer experiences, such as collecting for a food drive or volunteering with a local charity. You might even connect with a project that allows families to serve together helping people in need. As kids get older, ask them what causes or charities they are passionate about, and encourage them to get involved through financial support, volunteering, or both.

Fostering generosity in the next generation is a multi-faceted experience, and whether we are aunts, uncles, neighbours, parents, grandparents, or godparents, we are all in a position to make an impact on the children in our lives. Modelling generosity through our actions and words, and supporting our kids as they get out there and give, will go a long way in helping them catch the spirit of generosity. I know it did for me, and I hope it does for my kids too.

Rather than just hoping youth will somehow pick up good money habits, Abundance Canada takes a proactive approach encouraging money conversations between youth and their adult mentors in churches. Download your copy of our Money Matters for Youth workbook and start the conversation!

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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