Faith & Life


Inspiring Children’s Generosity Begins with Parents’ Own Giving Habits

By Cathi Douglas     12/11/2019

It feels good to give to others. And as Catholic parents, we are committed to teach our children the habits, joys, and responsibilities of giving – at the holidays and beyond. 

Author Mary-Jo McLaughlin cites research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute that shows if an adult or parent donates or does volunteer work and talks with their child about why they do so, children are more likely to follow their example.  

“This encourages an attitude of generous giving rather than giving out of a sense of guilt or manipulation,” explains McLaughlin, writing in “Four County Catholic,” published by St. Pius X Catholic Church in Granger, Indiana. “It teaches children empathy, compassion and care for others while instilling in them greater gratitude for what they have.” 

Indeed, this research “provides a clear, effective path for parents who want to encourage their children to be generous and caring,” said Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., director of the institute, which is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Talking to children about charity is effective across all types of U.S. households, pointing the way to raising future philanthropists.” 


Five ways to make giving a habit 

The “Four County Catholic” article lists key ways parents can teach kids to give. 

  1. Help children see that God has given them many blessings. 
  2. Teach children to be grateful to God for the blessings He has given us.
  3. Show children how stewardship has built our Church.
  4. Help children to recognize that stewardship is something we do all the time. 
  5. Help children identify the joy that comes from stewardship.

Still, it can be difficult to be generous – and to ensure our kids are paying attention as we do so – particularly as we battle busy schedules made even more challenging with the added stress of the season. 


Putting generosity into practice 

  • If generosity begins at home, then the best way to begin is to frequently compliment our children on their unique gifts. Their dimples, for example, are God’s gift and they must share them with others.
  • Continuous thankfulness becomes a happy habit. Identifying together the things we’ve been given and thanking God for them generates positive conversations at the dinner table or bedtime.
  • I can’t drive to the market in my neighborhood without spotting at least one homeless person. These sightings are the perfect opportunity to discuss the poor and needy with our children. You can even go a step further: Visit the dollar store, fill a small plastic bag with hygiene products, and give them to the homeless people who cross your path.
  • Giving to the Church on Sunday helps support our parishes and parish schools. Kids can see firsthand the ensuing benefits they enjoy each day. Discussing how to distinguish our ‘wants’ from our ‘needs’ helps focus attention on the amount we spend.


Underscoring the importance of giving 

As noted in the Indiana University study, the most critical way we influence our children’s giving habits is by sharing our own good feelings about helping and giving. 

When we stop to throw a loose dollar bill into the Salvation Army red bucket or the Sunday offering basket, we put giving into practice – and can immediately share the warm, satisfying feeling we experience as we give.