Mighty Life List
Dec 18 2012

Help Me Raise a Socially Conscious Kid

The five year old did not get why we were spending our afternoon buying electronic equipment we weren’t going to keep.

We were there because AT&T gave $35,000(!!) at Camp Mighty to purchase gifts for charities. My share of the windfall went to buy iPads to outfit the study rooms at Boys Hope, Girls Hope — an awesome organization that provides a boarding school environment and access to private school education for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.

I wanted Hank to be excited! Happy! To feel the way I was feeling! Feel the way I am feeling, 5-year-old! He did not.

Instead he was mostly grumpy about running an errand. This made me grumpy too, and a little panicky, because when I went to the United Nations Social Good Summit we learned that activism starts in childhood. Hence, I am concerned about failing in my duty to raise a Citizen. And the United Nations telling everyone I am a bad parent.

So I’m wondering how you were raised. Did your parents teach you that it’s important to help others? And if so, how? How did they do it? And if they didn’t do it, are you currently a serial killer instead? Please tell me.

And if your parents did raise you right, here’s a chance to do a little good yourself. AT&T, is partnering with the Make a Wish Foundation to grant a wish every day for 28 days through their Wish-A-Day Sweepstakes. Wishes with the most votes win, so if you have a worthy wish and a Twitter account, get cracking.

Huge thanks to AT&T for being such goodies. In gratitude I pose jubilantly with your logo!

You guys are lovely.

64 Responses to “Help Me Raise a Socially Conscious Kid”

  • Kate Says:

    Every December, the Rotary Club my Dad belonged to split into teams and competed to collect the most canned goods for holiday baskets (which were really huge moving boxes) to be delivered to family’s served by the town food bank. Around December 20, a few of them would gather and divide up the goods, along with donated turkeys, bread and other items from local businesses in boxes sized by family. He always took me along. Something about seeing this box of beans and canned corn and mac & cheese meant to feed a family of 6 struck me. So at least for one weekend I didn’t whine about not getting the sugar cereal at the grocery with my mom. It made it real and not an abstract concept.

  • Sheila Says:

    My parents were Boy/Girl Scout leaders, active in church and community. I volunteer at least 100 hours each year. To she who much is given, much is expected. So many blessings so that is how I give thanks.

  • Brook Says:

    It’s okay, Maggie! When I was a kid, doing the shopping and sorting the canned goods was a drag. But I totally got it when it came to distribution. Handing out goods at the Food Bank, and delivering gifts to the kids in the hospital were major moments for me as a kid. He just needs to see where the stuff is going, then he’ll understand generosity.

  • Kristen Howerton Says:

    Travel. It’s what did it for me. My parents took me to 3rd world countries and exposed me to poverty in the US, too. It’s one of the reasons we travel with our kids a lot, too. There is no perspective quite like it.

  • Stephanie Says:

    My parents brought us (4 kids) to church, taught us manners at home and somewhere along the line showed us that giving back was a part of life. In the past 10 years I finally ‘got it’ and started giving back. This winter I’m taking it a step further and will be taking a 5 month leave from work to go and volunteer in India for an organization that provides tutoring and mentoring for underprivileged children. It just feels like the right thing to do, for me, at this point in my life. Looking forward to the challenge, the experience and opening my heart in a whole new way.

  • Annie Says:

    Oh, I think you’re on the right track, it just takes time! I have a 5yo son too, and he was equally grumpy about buying and donating toys that were not for him…but it’s like water wearing a groove into a rock. I keep showing him compassion, empathy, and charity, and sometimes he shows me he’s getting it. “She looks really sad. I wonder what happened to her.” “I bet you missed him because you love him so much.” Little by little :)

  • Allisone Says:

    Tonight my 18 year old daughter and I poured over Kiva.org picking our Christmas loan choices. You’ll get there. What is Hank interested in? Is there anyway for him to turn that into a giving opportunity?

  • M C Says:

    I think direct exposure is a good thing, though it might stress your kid out a little bit with worry. My daughter and I had to (obviously very unexpectedly) live in a shelter for victims of abuse over christmas when she was four. She was given donated presents, and one was a care bear that had a child’s handwritten note in it saying something like, “I am sorry that things are hard for you but I hope this makes you feel better and everything will be better soon.” My daughter has since bounced back from that detour in our lives and is extremely empathetic now, often giving away her own things/food and starting fund raisers in her elementary school. It can be a little bit rough, sometimes, since it hurts her when people are hurting, but I like to think that she’ll be a force for good when she grows up.

  • Rachel Says:

    My dad used to be a leader of a religious congregation and his name was listed in the phone book for many years after. One night when I was just a kid he woke me up and asked if I would come with him to pick someone up who had called for help. She was homeless and was dropped off in the city with nothing. My parents gave her a place to stay for the night and some food and some money and she was gone by the time I woke up the next morning. This sort of thing happened regularly. We were always pulling weeds in a widow’s yard or bringing a family in need a meal. People would call for help and my parents would go and usually take us with them – not always willingly, because what kids wants to go weed a garden on a Saturday morning? But they brought us anyway. So here is what I learned: it’s about the individual. Giving to organizations is great. And it’s important. But you have to connect a face to it. You have to see why someone needs help, and how your help makes a difference. Seeing that woman standing alone at the gas station where we picked her up, and feeling how cold she was when she sat next to me on the drive home has stuck with me for almost 30 years now. And seeing how gentle my parents were with her has also stuck with me.

  • Jennifer Says:

    Every year on Thanksgiving, my parents would wistfully talk about “doing something for the less fortunate” as they sat around the dinner table. They continued this tradition their entire lives.

    My husband and I work together, and the nature of our business requires us to work every Thursday, even Thanksgiving. We have spent the last 20 Thanksgivings using our company to raise money – early in our marriage we supported animal rescue sanctuaries, and during the latter half we have supported an organization that builds schools, libraries, medical facilities and community centers around the world. Will our kids carry on this tradition? I sure hope so!

    Even though my parents didn’t follow through with their desire to “do something” at the holidays, they were very active in their town and instilled the same sense of community in my brother and me. I wouldn’t worry about Hank… I think it’s tough for the little guys to imagine a wider perspective than their immediate environment. But he is his parents’ son, and the things you do will seem natural to him, especially if you go about it with an attitude of “This is what we do.” rather than “See all the good we’re doing?” As with most things, the gratification isn’t always immediate.

  • Lauren Says:

    Civic engagement and volunteering was a core part of my upbringing. I think a lot of that has to do with it being a major tenet of Judaism and how much of my youth was spent at my synagogue. That said, my parents brought me with them to everything – weekly volunteering at a local Ronald McDonald House, campaigning for a local judge/working the polls (and being taken TO the polls for every single election of the first 12 years of my life), having parents who volunteered to teach HIV/AIDS education to my peers and eventually being connected through them to a local agency to become a peer mentor myself, giving money to charities on a weekly basis as part of Jewish ritual, coming with my parents each time they donated blood, and generally being involved in the world around me. It was not perfect, and I didn’t learn about the value of solidarity vs. charity (i.e., http://www.rachelremen.com/service.html), but I did and do have a strong sense of obligation to be a part of something bigger than just me or my own bubble. Social justice is a part of who I am, and with that, I think global citizenry and a strong social consciousness.

  • Katrina Says:

    My parents are pretty civic minded so they did quite a lot to make sure my brother and I got that it was important to help others, but I have to second the travel comment – I really think that was the thing above all others that brought home to me just how much I had, and how hard it is to really look at what it’s like to not have much of anything. Being exposed to poverty as a kid is hard, or at least it was for me, but I think the alternative is growing up believing that there’s not really much suffering out there, or that people who are suffering are somehow different from you and deserving of that suffering.

    The other thing my parents did that I think made a big difference for me was simply talking to me about the world – they didn’t shield us from all the hard truths about the inequality out there (I’m sure they shielded us from plenty, just not all of it), and they talked with my brother and me about politics, or things in the news, and always kept at the forefront ideas and questions about how things would affect other people – it meant that I formed a habit of asking, what will this mean to someone less fortunate than me? I think the whole Peggy McIntosh/invisible knapsack analysis (http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf) of how those of us with some kind of privilege or other (being white, or male, or well-off, etc.) often don’t realize how deeply it affects our lives and the lives of those who don’t have it, is spot on – and I think one of the most powerful things we can do for our kids is to teach them to notice that privilege and think about what it means.

    And I have to say, even though I like to think I got it, at a pretty young age, that certainly didn’t mean I was always selfless and happily pitched in at every opportunity. I mean, I was a kid :).

  • Nicole Says:

    In Judaism, there’s a pretty big emphasis on social justice and giving back. So every week when I went to Sunday school, starting around 5 or 6, my parents would give me some quarters for the tzedakah (charity) box. We also did food drives, and every year cleaned out old toys and clothes for charity. Now I work in philanthropy and give to charity and organize volunteers for a living. So I guess it worked?

  • Lianne Says:

    Hank is just perfect. So are you.

    So much of what we think we “teach” children is in fact due to the natural maturation process. And the thing that allows that natural maturation process to unfold as it should so that we are the empathetic, caring creatures nature has designed us to be is a loving environment. Hank has that. Developmentally it is entirely appropriate that a 5 year old have the reaction Hank had. The concept of helping strangers to whom he has no acquaintance, let alone any attachment, is much too abstract for him. Keep on living in love and he will grow into it. xox

    ps – I highly recommend the audio download called “Cultivating Caring Children” found here for a deeper exploration of the developmental roots of empathy: http://neufeldinstitute.com/products/audio

  • a. Says:

    Don’t panic. I teach 5 year olds, and I think most of them (good souls, all) would have been hard pressed to get pumped about that errand. While they love helping people, and they love IPads, I’m not sure they quite understand that big, expensive, world-opening things come in such weensy little packages. Dollar values don’t make sense yet. IPads and gift cards come in very small, inscrutable packages. Not to mention the fact that at this point, “internet” is like “oxygen”, in that it flows all around us and we are using it all the time. I’m not sure they are ready to understand how meaningful it is to give that access to people who don’t already have it. I think it’s still a bit of an abstract cognitive leap to make, but they will get there. Especially with good examples like yours.

    You brought him along, you showed him the specific, concrete steps it takes to bring an idea into fruition, and while he may not have shared your enthusiasm, he was witness to it. He saw you directing your words and your actions toward a worthy goal. That’s meaningful. Keep on keepin’ on, mama.

  • AnnW Says:

    I started when my daughter was 2 1/2. We bought a very hard to get ethnic Cabbage Patch doll. We got dressed up and took it to the New York Foundling Hospital for one of the children there. We continued this practice for four or five years until we moved. The Hospital is now a Trump apartment building. They were able to relocate to cheaper quarters and sell their huge building to him. You have to make it personal for your child. Don’t give up. They are always watching us, even when we think they aren’t. Now my daughter comes to me when her friends are in trouble and wants to help them.

  • Kara Says:

    I second the person who suggested to figure out what Hank likes and make that into a giving opportunity. He is not going to be passionate about the same things you are (especially at 5) and I would worry about trying too hard to make him care about the same things you care about.

    My parents turned me off volunteering for a very very long time because they choose (and mandated my participation in) “volunteer opportunities” without taking into account my personality or interests. Forcing a painfully shy, introverted, bookish kid to be a “server” in a soup kitchen was not a recipe for success….

    It is only recently that I have managed to shake off the very negative associations that I developed regarding volunteering/community service and have dipped my toes back into the service pool. I volunteer at my local Humane Society working with the dogs and cats (I am still painfully shy and introverted) and am happy with this.

  • Angie L Says:

    My parents were very involved in the community. My mom volunteered at a low income health care clinic and my dad did all kinds of charitable giving. The biggest impact they made was the volunteering we did together. Every year we walked in the Crop Walk to raise money for the hungry. We volunteered regularly at Special Olympics and when we were old enough – Habitat for Humanity. We always sponsored families at Christmas and our parents would put us in charge of finding great deals and figuring what the kids would really want. One year, my dad had heard about a family without a water heater and asked us if it would be okay if we had less presets so that family could have hot water for Christmas. We were pretty excited. We also helped make and serve food for big events in town. They really walked the walk and that made all the difference.

  • amybee Says:

    An idea that has worked for us is that part of my daughter’s allowance is allocated for charity. She directs where the funds go based on her interests or community needs she hears about at school or Girl Scouts or from us.

  • Bridget Says:

    My parents volunteered so much for local community organizations that volunteering just naturally became a part of my routine as well. I never even considered why I do it and why some others don’t… but it definitely could be the example my parents set for me.

  • sarah Says:

    Awesome question, and one I’m curious about, too. My 2.5 year old is still a little young to grasp concepts like this, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to formulate a plan for when he’s a little older…

    As for me, I think it came from a couple of places: church (I’m no longer active, but as a kid participated in youth groups and had mandatory volunteer hours to fulfill), and watching how my parents–specifically my dad–treated people. My dad was a respected professor at a large university, and he always made a point of not only always knowing the names of the service folks he came into contact with regularly (janitors, secretaries, delivery people, groundskeepers, etc.), but he always took the time to check in with them and chat when they crossed paths. It sounded to us as though he was catching up with an old friend (and in many cases I think that’s how he looked at it.) It was the same with any service person out in the world–wait staff at restaurants, clerks in stores, etc. It showed my sister and I that no matter what your station in life or how different someone is from you, other humans deserve your time, care, and respect, and you are not better than anyone else. This attitude helps foster a sense of responsibility when it comes to ensuring that our fellow humans are taken care of.

    I think that having this ‘way of being’ actively modeled for us throughout our lives, rather than my parents trying to consciously teach us about service, left a larger imprint on us than most other experiences.

  • Melanie Says:

    Hey Maggie! Who you are in the world will rub off. For me it was constant, repeated acts by my parents that sunk in deeply. Every Christmas day my (Jewish) family would take the place of the kitchen staff at the local Christian hospital so employees could be with their families. We often as a family volunteered with Habitat for Humanity (Hank is to young right now. Working a few times a year with Habitat had a HUGE impact on me as a young’un and teen. Working with my hands was fun, at the end of the day you could see clearly what you had accomplished, teamwork was absolutely necessary and we got to work alongside and get to know the family whose future we were helping to secure. But really, it was (and still is) watching my parents uphold their OWN moral standards everyday – keeping granoala bars in the glove compartment to give to hungry folks, treating people with equal respect, saying hi to the people in front and behind them in lines, holding doors, and letting that other car go first in traffic jams. Little things, every days. Hank will see you for who we know you to be. (I feel the same way watching GGC raise her kiddos) Thanks for opening this conversation!

  • Sarah C. Says:

    for us, it was about the less formal ways of giving back. going with our parents to visit the sick in our parish, cooking them meals, always volunteering to bring a dish to events, showing up when you say you will. seeing the payout on those little investments was what really impacted. it isn’t about giving 2 hours a year at a homeless shelter-it is about being a good person.

  • RL Says:

    When I was a kid, my parents regularly donated money to organizations helping kids/families in developing countries. There was always a picture on the fridge of a little girl or boy, their name, country, age, etc — seeing those pictures made it very real that the world was big, that kids everywhere liked and needed the same things we did, and that we needed to share what we had. Now we are doing this with our 3-year-old — and she constantly asks about her friend in Niger, what she’s doing, what she eats, etc. It’s a small thing, but made a huge impact on me — hopefully will on her, too.

  • Justine Says:

    Honestly, I think my parents focused more on us not being overall jerks and treating people right. It also helped coming of age in the 90s when we all thought we could save the world anyway. But I think it was my own bout of homelessness that made me truly aware. After that, I became much more of a social activist and more giving of myself and my resources. My own kids hear me talk passionately about one cause or another, and they’ve helped with me on a few. Even more important, they are both compassionate people. Hank will learn by example. If he asks why he can’t have all the iPads, explain in 5 year old terms why it’s important to you that other children have access to them. These things will stick!

  • elsiroomom Says:

    It has to be relatable. I think gift cards and Ipads, while awesome, are a little hard for a 5 year old. Boarding school what?! More likely he would understand something like “Toys for Tots” (some children don’t have many/any toys) or food shelf (we are helping people who don’t have enough to eat – my children LOVE canned good drives) or donating used clothing or toys (we can’t use these anymore/we have so many wonderful things – let’s share these nice things with someone who doesn’t have ……) Then, as they get older, it can be about their passion (animals, books, history, science, chronic illness). My son has Type I diabetes. He TOTALLY gets the idea of fund raising to get money for the scientists who are helping find ways to make better treatments for kids with diabetes (and you know what – his friends get it too – which at first was sort of astonishing to me, but now makes me kind of teary about how great he is at explaining things to his friends, AND how much they care about him.) So – long winded – don’t worry – he’ll get it when its something that is meaningful to him – and then you just swoop in and support the concept.

  • Heather Says:

    My parents were models of their ideals. They volunteered their extensive talents for the community I live in. I learned to do great thing and to help, because my parents did it. I’m a librarian, and what I often tell parents who want their kids to read more, is that they themselves have to read. Modeling, it is important. The more you volunteer, the more it is part of his life.

  • jaclyn Says:

    I second the learn by example philosophy. Our church runs a homeless shelter and we’re always editing our belongings, shopping for food, etc to support it. My 5 year old lugs the boxes in with me and explains to my 3 year old and 19 month old that we’re giving to people who don’t have x.y.z. for Christmas. It’s nice to hear him explain it in his own way. It’s sad to hear how incredulous he is that kids don’t have toothbrushes, stuffed animals, etc. It focuses me to do better and bigger for those in need. I would like to think it makes them more grateful. Time will tell.

  • holly Says:

    My parents did it by consistently making choices that were in line with their values. When I was little I was resentful of this at times, or I simply didn’t understand. But over time . . . well, my parents were awesome in their way.

    I think that you, of all people, are going to do a fantastic job with this!

  • Christen Says:

    I wouldn’t read too much into it if we was grumpy during this errand. I STILL get grumpy running errands sometimes (not one for crowds) but that has never stopped me from volunteering or donating to organizations I support. Just keep going and remember that he’s still SO YOUNG and he has so much time to learn. Keep up the great work!

  • samantha Says:

    We were the recipients of charity and the good grace of public servants quite a lot when I was little, which I think started me out believing that people should be helpful. But mostly I think it was my grandma volunteering at a local hospital and letting me come along and help that showed me how nice it was to be helpful. I think kids are going to understand more easily if they see the direct results of what they’re doing than hear about the concept of it.

  • Liz Says:

    Remember that the developmental stages of children have a lot to do with this. Children don’t really see the world as we do at age 5. Not until about the age of 8 do they start to see others as a part of their world. Besides, you have nothing to worry about with YOU being his mom! You’re incredibly giving and socially conscious. He’ll grow up having a great example. For me, my parents didn’t instill in us (my brother and me) a sense of helping others beyond having respect for all races, religions, etc. They were too focused on themselves. But, that doesn’t mean I ended up without a sense of what it means to be socially conscious. I do wish I would allow myself to do more but growing up with my parents hasn’t stunted me in that department. I think it’s a mixture of many factors. Your actions are just one part of what will shape him into a socially conscious person.

  • Desiree Says:

    For a kid Hank’s age you may try a community service project that relates to an interest of his–this is how we introduce community service in our school programs. It makes it more immediate to have the helpful experience happening right in front of them, rather than being told something abstract, like helping people they don’t know and will not see.

  • maureen Says:

    Role modeling. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and she always had a regular volunteer gig. She delivered Meals-on-Wheels for a few years, then she answered phones at the Distress Centre for a couple of years, then she was a Big Sister for 4 or 5 years. You get the idea. My dad also did his volunteer thing in the community. They weren’t preachy about it to us, but just being around it, we all just absorbed those values.

  • Carole Says:

    For my whole life, and still today, the philosophy and example in my family was to help others and treat them with kindness and understanding…just as long as it was handled through church and the person being helped was living the “right” way. So needless to say the charitable giving and volunteer opportunities I seek out and participate in now have become a part of my life in spite of my childhood example and not because of it. So don’t sweat it! Even with no good example Hank is liable to stick the occasional dollar in the Salvation Army kettle and not be a serial killer. With some growing up and world awareness AND your good example, just imagine how awesome and generous he’ll turn out!

  • Auntie R Says:

    Me? As a child I should have been on the receiving end of charity, but wasn’t. I don’t remember being taught to give to those less fortunate, but still I gave some of my hand-me- down clothes to a girl in school with less than I. Today my grandson and I are planning a trip to Walmart to choose Xmas toys for donation. He will do the choosing. I think he’s excited about it. He has been with me when I’ve handed money to the homeless. Of course a discussion followed. I’m hoping he’s learning by example.

  • Corri C Says:

    I think this is how you do it. He’s five. It’s not all going to make sense to him or excite him. But watching how excited it makes you and that you do it is very important. He may not remember this, but it has planted a seed. I think too often we look for immediate results in childhood. But it’s an accumulation of things. Often things we didn’t know we were teaching because our actions speak louder than words.

  • Kathryn Says:

    There wasn’t necessarily one specific event that I remember growing up that impacted how I view giving. I think as a teenager and now as an adult I see how all the tiny little things I saw my parents do built up over time to give me a big picture of how my parents cared about others and how they wanted me to care about others, too.

  • Lydia Says:

    I think when you’re 5 it’s hard to understand why it’s important. You can start setting the example, but he probably has hard time understanding the end result. Just keep at it because the best thing you can do for him is set a great example. If you are giving, he will be too.

  • Ami Says:

    There’s a lot to be said for organizations such as Girl Scouts or church youth groups that regularly engage in service projects. My family didn’t do much, but I was in GS and a youth group; now that I’m an adult, I volunteer regularly and bring my kids with me to do activities that are family friendly, and my daughter is in Girl Scouts. Boy Scouts and their homophobia makes it a bit trickier for hank. Surely San Francisco has a less conservative option?

  • Beth C. Says:

    This sounds like a typical 5 yo…not a socially unaware deadbeat! You’re doing just fine.

    I think it’s important to talk to your kids about helping others. And give them a project they can accomplish and understand – send Christmas cards to people serving in the military overseas; or to a Children’s Hospital. A small act of kindness that no doubt will have a huge impact on the recipient. It’s an exercise in being kind that can grow into other acts of generosity as they develop their sense of what it means to help others.

  • Laurie Says:

    My parents didn’t volunteer or donate a whole lot when I was growing up. We probably should have been on the receiving end (but did not). I do donate to charities and I explain to my son who is 6 why we are bringing clothes to such and such. He accompanies me when I donate to the food pantry. I give him a dollar to put in the salvation army bucket. Last year I had him pick a name of a boy his age off a giving tree…the boy wanted a Woody Doll from Toy Story and my son was able to grasp it. So maybe starting smaller? $35,000 is overwhelming for me. UGG I hope this is sounding wright and I’m not coming off as a jerk.

  • Rachel Says:

    I think elsiroomom has it right: it’s got to be relatable for the kid. Spending $35K of someone else’s money on iPads for a boarding school is just too remote for a 5-year-old. To me, that isn’t really even a charitable act on your family’s part — it’s spending a corporation’s money.

    What about letting him pick out some toys for Toys for Tots? Donating old clothes/coats for a winter clothing drive? Collecting coins for a food bank or UNICEF? Those things open up a conversation about how we have a responsibility to help others in our community, about how other kids haven’t been as lucky as we have been.

    Also, my daughter’s public elementary school here in SF has been doing a lot of fund-raising, both for the school and for the community, and that’s given us the chance to talk about why we’re doing it, where the money goes, what public school means, how to be a citizen, etc.

  • Kristin Says:

    Lead by example. My Dad didn’t do anything spectacular, but he did a lot of little things that really added up in my memory. Before there was curbside recycling, my church held a monthly recycling event where people could bring their cans, bottles, newspapers, etc. and we were there every time. My Dad also walked around to all of the neighbors and collected their recycling for them too, to save them a trip. Another example, we had approximately 30 square feet of sidewalk to shovel each time it snowed, but my Dad bought a snowblower so he could go the whole way up and down the block and take care of everyone’s sidewalk so they didn’t have to do it themselves. He was a great guy, and even if I didn’t recognize it at 5, it’s more important that I do at 35.

  • Marguerite Says:

    My parents were anti-government/pro-capitalist activists in communist Poland (we came to the US as political refugees.) Which means they’re rabidly consumerist anti-lefty Reaganites in the US. I work in the nonprofit sector and am a bleeding heart liberal. So activist behavior stuck with me, but I use it to achieve very different goals. :-) Hope your son emulates your behavior better than I do my parents’.

  • Tara Says:

    If Hank grows up seeing his parents doing good and helping others, it will never occur to him him that it’s special. He will just think it’s something you do, and the idea of NOT doing it will be ludicrous to him. So, just keep it up and he will be aces.

  • Karen Says:

    I agree with the others that your errand was too ‘big picture’ for a 5 year old to absorb. But you’re setting a great example & one day it will be second nature to him to help others.

    For our 4 year old, I’ve tried to make giving relate to her. Our church does wish lists for children in foster care every Christmas. I grab a list for a kid her age & we go over it together & try to find what they are asking for. Odds are it is stuff she’d want, too, which makes it personal.

    No idea if it sinks in much, but I’m hoping she will know that each year we also buy for those who won’t get anything unless we help.

  • Sherri Says:

    Church was a big one, with the values instilled at home as well. But I was in Girl Guides as well and we did a lot of volunteering and singing in old folks homes!

  • Isabel @alphamom Says:

    My parents were generous to others in the community by always helping. Me? As a child I became a ballet student at age 9 at a scholarship school. There I was surrounded by daily generosity and saw how important giving was to organizations. My first babysitting check was donated to my ballet school. I think it was for $37.

    Today, my husband & I dedicate a lot of time and resources to causes that are important to us. And, we both dedicate time to our community, currently that is our son’s school and NYC. We hope that we’re modeling behavior that our son will understand and learn.

    I believe that giving and helping is contagious, in the best possible way. I love this video I saw on Facebook, for that reason: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID0kgP9IVhs

  • Emily Says:

    I don’t know any five year old who would be psyched about buying a lot of fun stuff for other people. BUT it sinks in. He sees you doing it, and he files it away under GOOD DEEDS and it becomes part of who he is. IMHO. Good work!

  • Tracey Says:

    It’s not you, it’s not Hank. It’s Five. Five is the “gimme” age. Five at Christmastime is just the worst.

    Do what you’re doing. Make sure he sees you volunteering and giving, make sure he sees you making sacrifices to share with others. He’ll get there.

  • Nava Says:

    Aside from my parents just plain being generous (of COURSE you help people, it’s just WHAT IS DONE), I think the main influence was experiencing the giving of others. We lived in homes rent-free when we had no income, had boxes of food given to us, had jobs found for us (not all of us, of course, I was just a child) but I grew up experiencing generosity as #1 something to be thankful for but #2 something to be expected. I know that sounds strange, but the fact that I just expect that people will be generous to each other applies to myself as well. If someone asks me for something (or I see the need) and it is in my power to give it to them, I do it. It’s just a matter of course. I’m not ‘doing them a huge favor’ or ‘being charitable’, I’m just doing what everyone does (even if it is not actually what everyone does). I hope that my example is enough for my children because, as much as it shaped my own outlook, I would rather not they have to experience the receiving end of things quite as much. :) I talk to them about what we are doing and why, but I really don’t put any emphasis into how they should feel about it; I don’t make a big deal out of it. So-and-so needs x, so we are going to get it for them. Of course, this can translate interestingly, like “my friend needs a dog, let’s buy them one”, and “my brother needs cake, let’s make some. Some for me too. Because I need a cake.” but the general idea is, I think, seeping in.

  • Ger Says:

    I’ll come at this from a different angle. My mother professed to be such a good Catholic. But she didn’t “walk the walk.” We gave to canned food drives, but we sent the dented, unwanted stuff in the cabinets. She actively discouraged us from helping friends out, or my father from helping neighbors. She couldn’t empathize with those who weren’t exactly like us. Despite that, my brother and I have grown up to be charitable compassionate civic-minded folks. Keep doing what you’re doing. If it sticks, yes! If it doesn’t, then you’ve still given him the building blocks, and your work is done. I guess I’m saying it’s a crapshoot. Hank is an awesome kid!

  • Z. Says:

    #1-Good for you! What an amazing opportunity and experience to be a conduit and deliver gifts that will help kids reach out and learn and communicate!

    Let him choose the who, what, and how of how he wants to share with people or causes. Give him options and ideas and he’ll be a happy and creative participant when he chooses where he’s drawn to help. He’ll build some good memories and life skills of his own. It’s always more when it’s your own idea or you are collaborating with your friends.

    My kids did a lemonade stand and toy sale for Solar Sisters to buy a solar lamp for a schoolgirl so she could read and study at night completely on their own one afternoon when they were little. However, they still won’t let me forget about the time many yrs ago when I asked if they were done with a toy frog i wanted to give away. They didn’t always enjoy coming along to events where I volunteered, unless they had a job that they could put their own stamp on…those are the fond memories for them.

  • Abby R. Says:

    Things my mom did, so I did too:

    1. Letter writing to Amnesty
    2. Volunteering and taking me along
    3. Park cleanups
    4. Election worker
    5. Always bought extra groceries for the food barrel, telling me why we put them in our cart, and helping me learn nutrition too.
    6. Now in life — Peer pressure: always finding a good charity after disasters and asking how much I was able to give!

  • ruth Says:

    We were in 4-H (in a rural community) and one of my favorite memories was spending a day raking leaves for some elderly people that lived alone. It was more fun because I got to do it with a group of people my age. And also, giant grain trucks full of leaves.

  • Jenine Says:

    Five is a little early. 7 or 8 or 9 is when my girls were more interested in giving. The stories about kids just like them who were having a hard time (poverty, war, whatever) seemed to grab their imaginations.

  • Claire Says:

    My mom is a recovering alcoholic. She feels uncomfortable giving money to people on the street because they might spend it on booze. So when I was a kid if someone asked her for spare change she would usually say no. But once in a while, if she had time, she’d say “Can I buy you a meal?” I’ve done the same since I was a teenager. I do give spare change but I really like to buy people meals. The other night my boy and I were walking home in our neighborhood. I had just taken him out for fried chicken, a huge rare treat. A man on the sidewalk asked us for money, saying he wanted to go get some dinner. I gave him change and we walked on, but then I stopped. I reminded my son (age 9) that we had a piece of leftover chicken, and maybe we could offer it to the guy? So we walked back and asked if he wanted it. He did. We handed it over and headed home. I said, “It seems so crazy to me that we have a whole fridge full of food at home, and that guy has nothing. It’s not fair. It makes me feel a little better to share something with him.” “Yeah,” said my boy. “Me too.”

  • Clair Says:

    We volunteered year-round, donated our time to neighborhood organizations and our money to church (seriously, from the time I was five I had a quarter for the collection basket). My parents led by example. We didn’t have much, but that was no reason to not help others who had less. I didn’t ever think about this until high school, when my classmates were scrambling for community service hours to put on their college applications, and I had a long history of service to choose from.

  • Cindy D. Says:

    I don’t remember what exactly my parents DID that taught me to give to others, but as an adult I have realized that it is in my nature to want to give. I have tried to instill that in my 6 year old by asking him to help me donate toys and clothes that he has outgrown to kids that can use them. We pack up the goods and I take him with me to the local organization that supports displaced women and children and I explain to him as well as I can that not everyone is as lucky as we are and it’s up to us (and others) to help them.

    We participate in Toys for Tots every year and have adopted families here and there, but he is just now getting to the age that he understands and WANTS to help. Hank will get there, your every day example will be something that he absorbs just by being with you.

  • kim Says:

    hi maggie…
    my mom and dad pretty much just showed us by example. i don’t ever remember them saying anything about the importance of helping others. they just always…did it. in the late 60′s, we took in a young man from iran for 6 months. in the 70′s, we took in his brother for 3 years. they are now family. my sister and i both learned by the wonderful example they showed us…and, in turn, we both live that way as well. we give back. it’s the best feeling ever, isn’t it? merry christmas…and love…

  • Ali Says:

    My parent’s didn’t raise me with any real thought of being socially conscious, in fact they were quite self absorbed and a little bit racist.
    I, on the other hand, turned out fantastically, so it’s probably something you either pick up or you don’t.

  • Amy Says:

    My parents didn’t seem to make any conscious effort to teach me how to be aware of those kinds of things that mattered, and I don’t really remember them doing much of it themselves. BUT–we had a hunting camp in the forest that we would spend weekends at (when it wasn’t hunting season) and somehow I picked up my dad’s reverence for the forest, which had a great deal to me becoming an environmental activist and then a science teacher, which for me is really just a form of activism within the system.

  • jenn Says:

    i knew growing up that my parents made monetary donations to some organizations but we never did volunteering. I turned out all right though I think. I have raised my kids to be socially conscious by leading through example. I volunteer myself and I’ve always talked to my kids about it. As they have gotten older, I have taken them to volunteer with me. It’s something we do as a family. They haven’t always wanted to but even so, I know they learn from the experience. I think you’re doing great and Hank is going to prove it to you :)