The Charity Talk

I want my children to be generous – both as kids and eventually as adults – and to translate the values of empathy and generosity into action. Studies indicate that talking with your children about giving is the most important thing you can do to help them become givers. Many parents find these conversations difficult and overwhelming, and end up doing (and saying) nothing.  

I remember the first time I tried to discuss the concept of charity with my children. We were gathered around the table on a Friday night eating dinner together. There was a lull in the typical back and forth of “He took my fork!” “I hate this!” and, of course, flying pasta courtesy of my toddler. I thought it was a good opportunity to open a conversation around charity and poverty. Here is how it went:

Me: Do you guys know what it means to be poor?

Four-year-old: I do. It means when you don’t have enough food.

Me: That’s right! Do you know what charity means?

Four-year-old: I have no idea.

Seven-year-old: It means kissing.

Four-year-old: Ugh – you are rude.

Seven-year-old: You are boring.

And…cut. Least successful attempt ever at having a meaningful dinner conversation around values. That experience taught me a couple of things:

1) The conversation that was appropriate for our four year old was different from the conversation that was appropriate for our seven year old. They could both handle the topic, they just needed different approaches.

2) Conversations about abstract ideas are best done at relevant moments. While having this conversation around the family table sounded nice, it was actually not effective.

I waited patiently. The next time I raised the topic of charity was in response to my seven-year- old who asked about someone on the street begging for food. I tried to use simple, accurate language without frightening him, so the conversation went something like this:

seven-year-old: “Why is that man lying on the ground?”

Me: “There are some people in our city who are very poor. That means they don’t have enough money to pay for food or a place to live. Because we do have enough money for these things, we try to help our neighbors who don’t.”

As we were speaking, I brought my son over, gave the man a few coins and said “Feel good.”

I kept it basic, but my hope is that these brief interactions can be springboards to discuss more complex questions about poverty and the best practices related to charity. Over the next few posts, we will explore different ways of talking to different kids and at different times about charity and giving. Please follow along!