Tips for Teaching Kids About Charity and Empathy

Little girl volunteers with her family at a soup kitchen
••• Steve Debenport / Getty Images

It's never too early to teach your children the value of empathy, volunteering, and charitable giving of one's resources. Mary Gordon, the founder of Toronto-based educational program Roots of Empathy, tells us, "Empathy is caught, not taught. As children develop empathy it seems to come ready-made with courage and imagination. Children understand marginalization and issues of social justice in a clear and uncluttered way."

To help you teach valuable lessons about empathy and charity to your children, here are four tips to get you started.

Key Takeaways

  • Teaching empathy and charity at a young age can lead them toward collaboration and civility.
  • Helpful ways to teach kids about empathy early on is to talk about how others feel, suggest how to help others, read them books about feelings, and teach them self-awareness.
  • Set a good example for your kids by Including them in your own volunteer or charity activities.
  • By giving the value of charity a central role in the family dynamic, you encourage your child to grow up with a healthy sense of compassion and a strong charitable spirit.

Introduce Empathy at a Young Age

When talking about interaction with other people, parents should discuss the concept of empathy with their children as soon as possible. As Gordon mentions, developing kids' capacity to take the perspective of others early on can lead toward collaboration and civility.

Very young children may not realize that other people have feelings, ideas, and emotions of their own. However, you can help them along in the following ways:

  • Talk about how others feel: (Sarah is feeling sad because she lost her toy. Should we go and get her another one?)
  • Suggest how to help others: (Let's go get Billy a bandaid for his scraped knee. He would feel better if we help.)
  • Read stories about feelings: (For example, The Little Book of Big Feelings by Marzi Wilson or My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss.)
  • Teach self-awareness by using "I" statements: ("I don't like it when you kick me. It hurts and makes me feel sad.")

By the time they turn age three, children typically begin to understand and respect the fact that each and every person has feelings.

When they know that other people have a lives and feelings of their own, children can begin to develop and hone a sense of empathy. This capacity for empathy is the very basis for charity.

Set a Good Example

It's important for parents to create a family environment in which charitable giving is natural and encouraged. This is why it can be highly beneficial to include your children in your own volunteer or charity activities. Here are some examples:

  • Let them see you dropping money into charity boxes.
  • Encourage them to help you pick out canned foods during a food drive.
  • Let them tag along when you participate in a walk for a cause you care about.
  • Encourage them to help you write cards to the elderly.

Each time your child sees you giving to charity, it reinforces good behavior and gives you an opportunity to explain why it's important to give and how rewarding charity can be.

Explore All of the Different Ways to Give

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the U.S. alone. To help you gain a better idea of which organizations are the most fitting when it comes to your charitable efforts, watchdog group Charity Watch provides a user-friendly way to sort and browse top charities.

Some of their top charity categories include:

  • Supporting under-represented and minority communities
  • Animal protection
  • Blind and visually impaired
  • Cancer
  • International relief and development
  • Hunger
  • Peace and international relations
  • Women's rights
  • Youth development

There are many ways a child can learn the value of giving and plenty of volunteer options for kids. For example, setting up a charity box in the home can show how even a little bit of money can make a difference when given with a good heart. Encourage the donation of old toys, school supplies, and clothing to other needy children.

It's also a good idea to teach your little ones that donating time is often just as powerful as donating money and things. Take the whole family for an outing serving dinner at a local soup kitchen, or make a habit of keeping a basket of fruit or snacks in the car to give to hungry people in need.

Involve Children in Volunteer and Charitable Activities

It can be easier for younger children to understand empathy and charity if they're provided with more direct and concrete examples of charitable giving. They know that they love their favorite toys, so you can explain to them that not everyone is fortunate to have toys to play with.

Likewise, you can help them set up a charity box to which they can contribute part of their allowance or loose change. Making philanthropic donations a regular activity around the house can reinforce charitable values in your children's lives.