While most financial literacy programmes for children focus on saving and budgeting, financial experts say it is just as important to teach them about the value of charity.
“When it comes to financial education, while most people tend to focus mainly on saving, spending wisely, budgeting and investing, there are two important components that are often neglected – gratitude and generosity,” says Marilyn Pinto, founder of the Kids Finance Initiative.
“No financial education programme can be complete without taking these two aspects into consideration.”
A 2019 study conducted by the University of Arizona in the US found that earning and saving money isn't as important as getting your children involved with fundraising activities as early as possible.
The survey, which polled 115 people, explored how charitable habits are passed down through generations, and how early life lessons in giving may contribute to personal and financial well-being later on.
UAE resident Farheen Matheranwala endorses this school of thought and has involved her children – Mohammed, 11, and Hussain, 6 – in acts of charity since they were very young.
“Good habits instilled during childhood go a long way,” the Indian expat says.
The Covid-19 pandemic created some roadblocks for parents who want to teach their children how to be charitable through traditional forms of volunteering, such as serving food at orphanages or shelters.
Before the pandemic, Ms Matheranwala, 38, used to take her children to food distribution drives, blood donation camps and orphanages to help them understand charity. She encouraged them to drop small amounts of money in charity boxes and donate to various organisations. Her sons also donate their books and toys to less fortunate children.
"To an extent, the pandemic has put a halt on our movement, but not our intentions," she tells The National.
“With limited means, it can be hard for children to understand how to be engaged in charity. However, we have used this situation to teach them that they have a much more valuable resource – time, which can be just as powerful.”
Mohammed and Hussain now help prepare meals for blue-collar workers and sell home-made crafts to arrange funds for their domestic helper. The children are also making face masks from recycled fabric for their domestic helper. They are also donating a part of their pocket money to charity organisations during the holy month, Ms Matheranwala adds.
“Charity helps build a foundation for children and shows them that their actions, no matter how small, can make a real difference,” she says.
Acts of generosity can help children better deal with stress during the pandemic, according to mental health experts.
It’s been a tough time for all during the pandemic, but it’s been a lot tougher on children, says Soniyaa Punjabi, a life coach and founder of well-being centre Illuminations.
“The uncertainty of the situation, social isolation from their friends and teachers, and absorbing parental angst is a powerful cocktail bound to have an impact on the mental health of kids and adolescents,” Ms Punjabi says.
The art of giving can help children become more empathetic, responsible and kinder, she adds.
“It helps them understand that we are all connected and if we help each other, we help ourselves. This is scientifically proven because studies have shown that giving generously to others activates a part of our brain that is similar to the feelings of pleasure,” Ms Punjabi says.
However, there is no scientific data on the age that parents can introduce the concept of charity to children.
The life coach recommends that parents can introduce children to charity by the age of three or four because “at this age, young ones understand that people have emotions”. Children at this age can also see the effects of charity – that receivers feel good when they get a gift, especially one that they really need, she adds.
She cites bake sales, lemonade stands and charity drives to collect old toys and books as good examples that parents and schools can use to help children understand the benefits of donation.
“It’s so much better for kids to be actively involved in the charitable activity, whether it’s packing and delivering the items in person, or planning how much and choosing which charity to donate to. Kids love the sense of agency this gives them,” Ms Pinto says.
Will Rainey’s children Imogen, 8, and Florence, 6, recently saved up some money to give to a local cat rescue centre in Vietnam. As it was a local charity, they were able to hand over the money themselves, “which had a big impact on them”, says Mr Rainey, the founder of Blue Tree Savings, a company that helps parents teach their kids about money.
Kids are likely to feel more engaged with a charity if it is local, such as an animal rescue centre or orphanage. If it is local, they can witness the benefits of giving to charity, the British expat adds.
"When my kids are not saving up for a particular toy, we encourage them to save up to help a local charity. We make it clear that charity doesn't just have to be financial, donating their time is just as important," he tells The National.
Donating old toys and clothes is another good way to introduce children to charity. The added bonus is that kids who pass on their toys and clothes to someone else are more likely to maintain them better, according to Mr Rainey.
“The other area I know that kids are passionate about is the environment. There are many charities, such as OneTreePlanted, which allow kids to donate and help the world become a better place for their future.”
Meanwhile, Ms Pinto says she insists that her children earn the money they choose to donate. “It helps them stop seeing their parents as bank accounts,” she says.
Although children will naturally believe that money is for spending, parents need to be proactive in talking to them about the other uses of money, such as giving, saving and investing, financial experts say.
The most common way for parents to talk about giving money to charity is via the “four jar system”.
“When kids are given some money, they can choose how much they allocate to each of the four jars – spending jar, saving jar, investing jar and giving jar. It doesn’t matter how small the amount they give; any act of giving is a positive,” Mr Rainey says.
He adds that before the pandemic, one of the best ways to teach kids about donating was to give them money and see how much food they could buy from the supermarket to give to a local food bank.
“This exercise allows kids to consider what types of food would be best to help others. It also helps them learn about the value of money as they are usually surprised how much they could buy if they shopped sensibly,” he adds.
Ways for children to donate
- Participate in food or clothing distribution drives
- Donate to local food bank
- Visit an orphanage, nursing home
- Drop money in charity boxes in malls and stores
- Donate pocket money to charity organisations or non-profits
- Share books, toys and clothes with the needy
- Prepare meals for blue-collar workers
- Sell home-made crafts to raise funds for the needy