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Here Are Creative Ways to Teach Your Kids About Charity

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It's the season of giving — in the era of Covid-19.

For parents who want to teach their children how to be charitable, there may be some roadblocks to traditional forms of volunteering, such as serving food at a soup kitchen, during this pandemic.

"It's been a tough year," said Stephanie Mackara, president and principal wealth advisor of Charleston Investment Advisors, based in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

"We have to get creative about the way that we give."

That can mean making masks for frontline workers, donating toys or buying holiday gifts for those in need. Yet you don't need to have money to make a difference in someone's life, and teach your child to give back at the same time.

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In fact, it may help your kids navigate the pandemic a little easier.

"A lot of children are probably stressed out by this, so finding something where they can take an action, to make some small piece of this better might help them in ways beyond the expression of generosity," said Dr. Mark Wilhelm, a professor of economics and philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Here are five strategies to instill generosity in your children.

1. Start early and realize opportunities all around you

Even at a young age, kids can start being generous.

It may be making a card for someone, helping a neighbor or cleaning up a shared space in the home. It can even be wearing a mask, because that is a public good for the sake of the bigger group, Wilhelm said.

Match the action with your child's age. A young child's drawing can brighten up someone's day, as can a painted "kindness rock" left on someone's doorstep. It can also be taking part in a community clean up.

All of this helps build a foundation for giving, he said.

As kids get older, donating money to a nonprofit can be introduced. When they get money as a gift or an allowance, explain that some that cash can be set aside to help those in need.

Experts often advise splitting money into savings, spending and donating. However, the giving can be a small amount, like 5% or 10%, suggests Mackara, author of the book, "Money Minded Families."

2. Talk about it

When parents talk about giving to charity, their kids are 20% more likely to do so, according to a 2013 report by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy's Women's Philanthropy Institute.

In those conversations with your children, focus on the benefit their generosity will have on the emotional well-being of other people, Wilhelm suggests.

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Also, once a child engages in an act of charity, attribute their character. Tell them they are a kind and caring person instead of saying it was a kind and caring thing they did.

"They start to internalize it and think of it as part of their identity and their character," he said.

You can also challenge your child to articulate the needs that they see. Then, they can give a financial gift or donate time to an organization that can help meet those needs.

"Get your children to be the driver of it and don't dictate for them what it is they should be doing or what organization they can be giving to," Mackara said.

3. Be a role model

Parental giving boosts the likelihood of their children's giving.

A 2018 report by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy's Women's Philanthropy Institute found that of those adult children whose parents don't contribute to charity, 71.8% donate. Of those whose parents did contribute, 80.5% followed in their footsteps.

Yet it comes down to more than just expecting that your kids see your generosity, Wilhelm said.

"Children are not really good at knowing whether or not their parents give," he said.

That means you have to couple the role modeling with talking about it with your children.

"You have to let them know that you are doing it yourself and the child has to see that it is a regular part of the parent's flow of life," he said.

4. Do it together

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By engaging in acts of generosity together, you are setting up a natural situation in which it is very easy to talk about what you are doing, Wilhelm said.

Kids also like to be hands on and involved, rather than donating money, Mackara added.

Consider organizing a food or clothing drive with your child.

"You don't need money to send out an email or put a post on social media to say, 'Drop off canned goods at my house,'" she said.

5. Do an activity with them

Spend some time with your child doing something they want to do that is not geared towards giving. Do it on a regular basis, like once a week, Wilhelm said.

That can be playing a game together or going on a walk.

"Receiving attention like this lets the child know what it feels like to receive kindness from another person," Wilhelm explained.

"That has been shown to increase children's generosity, trust, kindness and helpfulness."

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