Feb. 7, 2022

23. Raising Generous Kids


Here’s today’s letter:

Coming out of last year’s holiday season, I started to wonder if my kids are getting a little spoiled. My partner and I both grew up in working class families, our parents often lived check to check and we learned to be grateful for what little we had. I really think those tough times pulled us together as a family. My partner and I have been very fortunate to have more disposable income as we raise our children. What that means is they usually have new outfits at the beginning of the school year, they get lots of presents for their birthdays and Christmas, and they have never had to worry about our financial security as a family. I’m grateful for this, but now I’m starting to wonder if they are going to be missing out on some of the positive parts of our childhoods. Gratitude, a hard work ethic, not being wasteful, not feeling entitled, all of those sorts of things. Basically, we want our kids to be humble, hard working, and generous. Our kids are 7 and 4. Any suggestions?

Links from today's discussion:
Resources to empower kids for a more connected and caring world: learningtogive.org

Children's Book Recommendation: A Chair for My Mother written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams https://bookshop.org/books/a-chair-for-my-mother/9780688040741

Discussion Guide for A Chair for My Mother https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/chair-my-mother-literature-guide

Children's Book Recommendation: Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn (Author) and Cornelius Van Wright (Illustrator) https://bookshop.org/books/sam-and-the-lucky-money/9781880000533

Discussion Guide for Sam and the Lucky Money https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/sam-and-lucky-money-literature-guide

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Transcript

Raising Grateful and Generous Kids

Here’s today’s letter:

Coming out of last year’s holiday season, I started to wonder if my kids are getting a little spoiled. My partner and I both grew up in working class families, our parents often lived check to check and we learned to be grateful for what little we had. I really think those tough times pulled us together as a family. My partner and I have been very fortunate to have more disposable income as we raise our children. What that means is they usually have new outfits at the beginning of the school year, they get lots of presents for their birthdays and Christmas, and they have never had to worry about our financial security as a family. I’m grateful for this, but now I’m starting to wonder if they are going to be missing out on some of the positive parts of our childhoods. Gratitude, a hard work ethic, not being wasteful, not feeling entitled, all of those sorts of things. Basically, we want our kids to be humble, hard working, and generous. Our kids are 7 and 4. Any suggestions?

Thank you so much for this question! It makes a lot of sense to be thinking about this time of year. I’ve been hearing lots of discussions about how to curb the over the top amount of gift giving this time of year. For families who have an excess of wealth, let’s define that as money above and beyond what is needed to meet their housing, medical, and food needs, gift giving can get out of hand very quickly. This is where we start to hear parents arguing with grandparents about limiting the number of gifts, We’ve all seen kids get trapped on the hedonic treadmill of needing more and more gifts to be happy. Sometimes I wonder if a part of the excessive gift giving is to make up for the lack of quality time we are able to dedicate to our most important relationships. It’s like our culture of capitalism has made the price of the gift or the quantity of gifts or the uniqueness of a gift a proxy for how we feel about someone. Makes you wonder if Gary Chapman’s love languages would have included gift giving in his framework if he had written his book before the advent of capitalism in the way that we know it today.

So, you want to teach your kids to have gratitude, to be humble, to be generous. I want to point you to a resource that you might find useful. I'll include a link in the show notes, it is called learningtogive.org . Lots of interesting things there. You’ll be happy to know that the research they cite shows that teaching kids about altruism actually works. It can be taught. And it looks like the best way is through teaching and role modeling.

So role modeling is going to be the most obvious one here. You’re going to want your kids to be able to see you doing the behaviors that you want them to pick up as they become adults. If you want them to see donating money or time as normal and necessary, you’ll want them to see you doing it. When it makes sense, I would encourage you to involve your kids in family decisions about where you will donate your money or time. Kids may have picked up on some issue areas that are already of concern to them. For example, the welfare of our earth, homelessness and poverty, health and safety. Consider letting your kids decide where some of the family’s time and money goes.

I would encourage you to make giving a normal part of how kids deal with their money too. Whether your kids get an allowance or occasionally receive money as a gift, consider establishing a practice where they give some of that money away. A lot of kids are already used to the idea of donating their used toys. In addition to that, it could be powerful for them to give away some of their money as well. This might send an additional message to a child, a nuance that is even more empowering for them to think of giving from the top, rather than from their unwanted stuff. I know a woman who is raising her granddaughter to spend a third, save a third, and give a third away. It’s a very simple and easy to remember guideline for her granddaughter who has grown up with this and now is well versed in what it is like to save and to give. Actually she’s quite proud of her savings and of her donations. I’d encourage you to go easy in terms of trying to direct which cause your kid supports, whether they want to choose something you think is particularly important or not, isn’t the point. It’s about building that muscle of giving.

So that’s the role modeling, and then there’s the teaching, I was reading learningtogive.org and came across some lessons that they have for kids of different ages and came across a book recommendation and a reading guide that I think would be useful for kids ranging from probably around 4 years old up to maybe 10 years old. Actually there are lots of books recommended all over the site but a lot of them, in my opinion were more about building up general empathy, and this one to me felt a bit more direct in terms of the messaging around generosity and giving.

The book is called, “A Chair for My Mother” and it is written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams about a community coming together to furnish a home after a house fire and how the family saves up to buy the final item that they need to have a comfortable home. For those of you who want to teach your kids about personal finance and specifically about the power of saving, this is also a good book for that. So, “A Chair for My Mother” by Vera B. Williams. 

In the show notes, I've included a reading Guide to go with it with suggested activities to further drive the message home with the kids in your life. It has some nice ideas including making a piggy bank with 3 compartments- spend, save, donate

And there’s another book that stood out called “Sam and the Lucky Money” by Karen Chinn. Sweet story about a boy who receives money for Chinese New Year’s and then goes all through Chinatown with his mom to try to decide how to spend it. He ends up giving it to a man on the street who doesn’t have shoes. The illustrations are beautiful and pretty much everyone in the story is Asian American, another great aspect of the book. Again, that is “Sam and the Lucky Money” by Karen Chinn.

I’ll also link the reading guide for this book which includes some simple activities that hadn’t occurred to me such as having the child list things that they have that others might not have, for example warm clothes, love, books, etc. 

So we’ve talked about role modeling and a couple of books and reading guides that might be useful to get your kids to adopt the types of behavior and practices that you mentioned in your letter. But let’s also talk about developing the mindsets of your children.

I think there’s a way to teach this type of altruism to kids in a way that doesn’t set your kids up to look down on the people they are giving to. This is probably the most complicated part to teach because it requires some soul searching on our parts. We discussed this a bit in the episode about housekeeping and other dirty secrets, that was episode 15. How you feel about others is going to show up to your kids whether you are saying it out loud, explicitly, or not. So if you’re donating food to the shelter and your attitude is, they should be grateful for whatever they get. If you’re donating food that you yourself would never in a million years lower yourself to eat.

If your whole energy around the donation is “I have worked hard, that’s why I have extra, and now I can provide to people who don’t work hard,” that’s going to show up to your kids. If your fundamental belief system is that you believe you deserve to be rich, whether or not you say that poor people deserve to be poor, that is the natural logical conclusion your kids will come to. So, I want to encourage you to start there, question your fundamental belief system, and look out for resources to challenge your own thinking. I didn’t get this energy from your letter, but it’s worth doing a self audit in terms of the subconscious mindsets that you might inadvertently pass on to your kids.

And the great thing about kids is that they often ask about the elephant in the room. “Why is that guy panhandling?” “Why is that lady getting food from the shelter?” “Why does that family live under that bridge?” Your kids are going to ask, so be thoughtful about your answers. Try to include hints for your kids that set them up to be, as you put it, humble. I would call it being aware of their privileges, and of their good fortune.

As usual, these discussions are meant to provide a place to start the conversation, but not meant to serve as the definitive answer. That’s going to depend a lot on your own values and perspectives on the world.

Links from today's discussion:
Resources to empower kids for a more connected and caring world: learningtogive.org

Children's Book Recommendation: A Chair for My Mother written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams https://bookshop.org/books/a-chair-for-my-mother/9780688040741

Discussion Guide for A Chair for My Mother https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/chair-my-mother-literature-guide

Children's Book Recommendation: Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn (Author) and Cornelius Van Wright (Illustrator) https://bookshop.org/books/sam-and-the-lucky-money/9781880000533

Discussion Guide for Sam and the Lucky Money https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/sam-and-lucky-money-literature-guide