The stages of giving in a child’s life (5-16)
Engaging children in philanthropy from an early age widens their horizons, develops their social conscience and teaches them about the value of money.
One of the questions you may have is ‘At what stage in their development should we start talking about charitable giving?’
This short article explains the different stages of giving and suggests how you can focus childrens’ philanthropic efforts, from young children taking part in a tombola at the summer fete to teenagers actively fundraising for their chosen charity.
Early home life can play a big part in a child’s exposure to, and subsequent propensity toward, philanthropic activities.
From ages 5 to 9, arguably the biggest factor at play is their growth in awareness: what charitable giving is, why it’s important, and that the world plays host to seemingly infinite life in need of nourishment and nurture – human or otherwise.
A child’s interactions during these years will dictate the scope of their awareness. For instance, encountering a classmate with learning disabilities at school can determine a child’s depth of understanding; a pet dog in need of veterinary treatment, a next-door neighbour with mobility issues, a relative who passed away from cancer – all of these experiences and life events play their part in shaping a child’s ongoing perspective.
When educating a child to the world of charitable giving, their level of awareness can be the key to success. That is not to say that children of a young age need to know the nitty-gritty details of suffering in order to empathise – far from it. Empathy stems from the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
For children to do this, they need to know of the existence of such ‘shoes’ in the first place, but without feeling fear; that other people exist in the world who don’t enjoy the same luxuries in life such as clean water or access to food, medicine and schooling can be enough to inform a child’s understanding of the world’s scale, and their place within it.
Turning awareness into actions
Possible first steps range from talking about your own charitable giving and the causes close to your heart, to involving them in fundraising events that spark their interest.
Local events provide a great foundation for giving – whether that be time, money or donations such as toys, books or clothing – as they often have tangible benefits that young minds can comprehend.
For instance, their school might hold a summer fete to fund a new library, or the local hospital might do a sponsored walk to raise money for replacement equipment. In this context, the cause and effect aspect of philanthropy is amplified, making it easier for children to see the value of their participation for themselves. For the most part, activities held at a local level are also fun; they’re a great opportunity to socialise and to partake in games such as raffles and tombolas, or activities such as face painting.
If the ages of 5-9 are the cornerstone for future philanthropy, the years that follow form the full foundation. During these years, children will often decide for themselves which charitable endeavours they prioritise. This may be due to first-hand experience (such as illness in the family), second-hand experience through television shows and social media, or a personal interest or hobby – a love of animals, for instance.
During these years, it is reasonably expected that a child will begin to understand the concept of responsibility and social conscience. In doing so, they may also become profoundly aware that they ‘can’t help everybody’.
As sad and demoralising as this thought may be, it also induces children to think carefully about the causes they do choose to support and why. Moreover, it can prompt them to assess their own set of circumstances, and donate accordingly. This may be in the form of regularly donating items they no longer need, passively sponsoring friends, or actively fundraising for their chosen charities.
They may weigh up the impact their giving activities will have, by comparing a donation to a world-renowned charity that receives millions of pounds a year versus a smaller, local charity aiming to save the life of a single person. The importance they place on the end result of their contribution, however small, will be as personal to them as your decisions are to you.
Ultimately, the reasons for your child becoming an active donor will not be dissimilar to your own. Both nature and nurture will impact what the output will be.
The best you can do as a parent, guardian, family member or friend is to provide access to the insight and tools required to ensure that their decisions are informed by truth, and their actions are undertaken safely. In this respect, it is important to make yourself available - whether it be to offer guidance and advice, or by personally supervising their extra-curricular activities.
A possible pitfall is maintaining your child’s enthusiasm and interest. In an increasingly-connected world, it is all too easy for them to be distracted by the myriad of demands on their time, from socialising to schoolwork. Offering seed money to begin a fund is one way to encourage continued engagement.
Whatever way you decide to engage your child, it is helpful to remember that the process is an evolutionary one. Their enthusiasm will change, their views may change - they themselves will change over time. By instilling a sense of perspective and responsibility from a young age you will, however, be taking the first step towards a philanthropy-focused future for your child.
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