Raising young agents of change: How to foster giving at home

Mom of two Alison Smith, co-founder of ECHOage, an organization that’s raised millions of dollars for charity, shares her tips for raising kids with giving spirits.

As someone who has been working on a social enterprise for quite some time, I’ve learned over the years that it’s often the small things that have the biggest impact and there are many day-to-day ways for kids to have meaningful experiences.

My kids are teenagers now, and I’m proud of how they’ve turned out and how compassionate they are. But things could have been very different had our family not placed such high importance on generosity and kindness early on.

When my son was six, I clearly remember him being a bit afraid to help a homeless person on the street on our way home from grocery shopping one day. I understood his feeling but I wanted to share with him that any one of us is vulnerable to difficult times and it is the small gestures of lending a hand and generosity of spirit that gives people the strength to push forward and find their way.

It was at that point that I realized starting early on was important. Building a generous and giving mentality into their everyday lives was essential if they were going to become young agents of change.

I also clearly remember those holiday celebrations and birthday parties from when they were young and how often I had to run out to buy yet another last minute gift. I remember hosting parties and seeing all the gifts pile up. While I encouraged my kids to celebrate and wanted them to enjoy every minute of it, I knew there was a better way. That’s when my co-founder, Debbie and I brainstormed a new way of celebrating through making charitable donations and letting kids purchase one or two meaningful gifts with the funds contributed by their guests.

And while we thought we were onto something — a new, better way of celebrating — and had it all figured out, our kids became our most important business consultants. Essentially they became our junior advisory board, offering fresh ideas and concepts to help us get this new way of celebrating off the ground.

Looking back, I now recognize how important it was to get them involved in the process. It got them thinking about giving more, realizing the needs of their community and how impactful they can be. And, to be honest, that’s what I feel is the most important takeaway from all of this.

While pouring my heart and soul into this business may be worthy of celebration on its own, much as it is for any dedicated entrepreneur, I think that some of the other little things we do in our everyday lives at home are just as important.

As such, here’s my take on some of the little things families can do to help instill kindness and generosity in their young children:

1. Pass it on: Teach your kids how good it feels to do random acts of kindness. The next time you’re in line for coffee with your kids, discreetly buy the person behind you a cup and walk out before they know. Your child will see how nice it feels to put a smile on an absolute stranger’s face!

2. Start small: Ask your children to think about something small that will make a big difference in someone’s life. Perhaps it’s a card for a friend about why they are special. Maybe it’s a phone call to a grandparent who lives far away. Maybe it’s baking cookies together for a friend who is under the weather. Whatever it is, teach them that small acts of kindness go a long way.

3. Watch and learn together: There are so many young, powerful children making a big difference. You can search for videos of children who have found a way to have an impact. As you watch together, talk about how your child can find a way to make a difference. Ask questions. Explore the topic of giving by seeing other young leaders in action. Ask your child to imagine being a “giving star” in their own video, and find out what they would do make the world a better place.

4. Start a giving calendar: Start tracking the little or big things your child is doing to give back or to make someone feel special, and mark it down on a calendar that he or she can decorate. Watching it all add up will motivate your child to give more!

5. Celebrate by giving back: While a birthday, for example, is an important milestone for children — and one that shouldn’t be overlooked — it’s great to get them thinking about getting and giving. They can even be in the driver’s seat and explore what charities would make them feel good to contribute to at this important time in their life. Or, they can host a charitable ECHOage party for example. There are many ways to give back — leave it up to your child to decide!

There are so many little things that kids can do to get into the giving mindset. As a parent, start small and sit back and watch how rewarding it will be for your child to get on board.

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Alison Smith

About

Alison Smith is the co-founder of ECHOage, a Toronto-based organization that offers children a better way to celebrate. She and co-founder Debbie Zimman launched ECHOage almost 10 years ago and have now raised millions of dollars for North American charities through the generosity and kindness of young children. Alison believes firmly that children become more charitable when they believe their actions have impact and is constantly excited about finding ways to help kids realize their philanthropic potential.


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