Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Raising a Philanthropist

Angie @ Kids Matter

I have always tried to help out my fellow man and I am eager for my son to have that same drive. I do not recall my parents ever “teaching” me to be that way, but I am confident that there were many lessons in my youth that turned me into the person I am today.
Now that I am a mother to a six year old boy, I find myself frequently wondering how to put that same sense of giving into him. We do many things automatically, such as tithing for church or picking children to buy for from the Angel Tree each Christmas, but how do I make him understand that giving should not be an act we do exclusively on Sundays and at Christmas? How do I get him to the point that he has a “desire” to give instead of receive?
He frequently sees me give to others and he understands that Mommy works for a non-profit agency that works for the betterment of children and families and quality child care. He sees me wear t-shirts and caps that say “Kids Matter®”, and even has a couple of those shirts that he likes to sleep in. Does just reading my shirt give him a sense of understanding? No, it is not enough to wear the shirt or the cap, I have to take time out to show him the things that I do.
I sat with him one evening on our deck and we had a talk about how many toys he has, how many fun activities he gets to participate in and how all kids do not have the same advantages. We discussed that all parents want their kids to have nice toys and swimming lessons, but some parents have to use the money that they earn to just pay for food and a home. He was surprised by this and I quickly realized that I was not doing enough to make him a philanthropist. I told him that we were going to have a special project that weekend and that he was going to learn how to share and to give. He looked at me with a doubtful face about the fun I had just promised him.
The next Saturday, he woke me up at 7:00am, we ate breakfast and then we loaded ourselves into the car, along with a full backpack. He asked me repeatedly what was in the backpack, but I was vague and told him that we would see later.
First, we went to the park in our neighborhood. This is a great park! There are several toys to climb on, swings, swinging bridges and sand pits and we love to go there and play. He was excited, until I told him that we were not there to play. I got him out of the car and we started towards the playground area, while I explained that first we were going to pick up any trash we saw on the playground. I pulled gloves out of the backpack and we picked up the few pieces lying around. I then told him that we had something special in the backpack and we needed to go to the sand pit area. When we arrived, I pulled some little toys, including shovels, trucks, action figures and sand molds out of the backpack. We talked about how we love to play in the sand with our toys, but all kids do not have sand toys to play with. We used the little shovels to dig out small areas and buried the other toys in the sand. When we had finished that, we sat the shovels on the retaining walls for other kids to play with. On the walk back to the car, he talked about how happy kids would be to find the toys we left behind and how much fun they would have.
Next, we went to the Dollar Tree near our home and again the excitement about getting something new, lit up his face. I calmly explained that we were not there to buy anything for us; we were there to just bring happiness. After a few minutes of whining in the parking lot, he agreed to try things my way and we went into the store. After we were inside, I handed him five $1 bills and told him that we were going to hide the money in the store. He looked at me with doubt, but agreed to my plan. As usual, he veered straight to the toy section and started admiring all of the brightly colored toys hanging on the wall. After a minute of prodding, he put two of his $1 bills in the toy area. He picked easy to find areas for the money and we walked away to the book section.
 As we were picking out a few books to hide our money in, we heard a young child and mother approaching the toy section. The little boy was begging his Mom for a toy, but she told him that they would get one the next time. Regardless of this, the boy was still touching the toys and you could see that he really wanted one. As he is touching the toys, one of our $1 bills drops out and he becomes so excited that he is laughing and jumping up and down! His Mom tells him that since he found the money, he can buy a toy. As all of this is happening right in front of my son and he is watching the scene intently. After the family walks away, my son looks at me and asked why the Mom wouldn’t just buy a toy for the boy. I explained again that everyone does not have money for toys every time they walk into a store and that many times people have to save their money to buy something they want.
He thought for a few minutes and I thought I could actually see the wheels in his brain turning. After a couple of minutes, he looks up at me with his sweet and innocent face and said that he was happy he could buy a toy for that little boy and he wanted to do it some more. We left all of our five $1 bills in the store and left, knowing that someone would find the money soon and that even though we were not there, we would bring them happiness.
We have repeated these activities several times and have added even more acts to our list of Random Acts of Kindness. I am happy to say that most days he seems to understand the need for giving. There is always room for more understanding, but I think we have made a great dent in the “me, me, me” attitude that was starting to show itself. He still occasionally begs for toys and clothes, but when I have to say no, he usually accepts it well.
 A great lesson for me from all of this is that teaching a person compassion is a life long journey and I do not see an end anywhere in my near future. What I do see though is that this will be a journey with a great payoff for all involved, including me, my son and the public. This is one of the most important lessons that I will ever teach my child and I look forward to him being successful.

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