Nearly a year ago I wrote a post about the importance of teaching children – even those as young as three and four years old – age-appropriate ways to provide care to others and to take responsibility for their own health and safety. Understanding that washing hands helps them stay healthy and ice is used on painful bumps and bruises is a great place for children to start, and by the time they reach elementary school, most are ready to learn how to help someone who’s choking, stop a bleeding wound, recognize an allergic reaction, and in my son’s case, administer an epi-pen. I followed my children’s lead, and learned that starting simple and then building on that basic foundation was the way to go.
And now I’ve learned that the same overarching principle applies to teaching children about monetary donations.
For my family, this summer has in many ways revolved around lemonade. My husband and kids (well, really just my husband) built a lemonade stand, the kids and I painted the lemonade stand, all four of us made lemonade from scratch and compared the homemade variety to a number of lemonade mixes and concentrates, and then last week the kids finally “set up shop” during our family’s annual garage sale.
(My husband would want me to point out that this picture isn’t of the lemonade stand he built…we couldn’t transport the stand from Texas to Wisconsin, so the kids had to make-do while visiting grandparents.)
When I asked my six-year-old son, Will, what he planned to do with the money he earned, he contemplated his options. “I think I’d like to buy a new Beyblade,” he decided. Then a minute or so later, he added, “and maybe I should give some away”.
“Really?” I asked.
After talking about the work of various local and national nonprofit organizations, Will chose the Red Cross to receive his contribution. (I’d like to think he would have come up with the Red Cross without my influence, but it’s possible he chose my favorite nonprofit because he knew how happy it would make me. He’s a people pleaser, that one.) And after his lemonade stand, we visited the Red Cross so he could donate 50% of his proceeds – a whopping $6 – to our local chapter.
While I can’t imagine that giving away his hard-earned money was easy, Will proved that six-years-old is old enough to both understand the importance of and experience the fulfillment that comes from helping those in need.
So when your own children, or perhaps the children in your neighborhood or the children in your classroom, ask how they can help, tell them. Tell them about lemonade stands and garage sales and Swim-a-Crosses and birthday party donations. Better yet, let them tell you about how they’d like to help. But whatever you do, don’t tell them they’re too young or too small, because that’s just not true.
Will started small, but with my help building on that basic foundation, he will hopefully one day feel inspired to give more – in whatever way suits him – to the organizations that call his name.