What does generosity look like, and how can we teach it to our kids? Here are four ways to go.
by Ryan Langr
Living For Others
As Christians, we are called to live our lives for the “other.” While ultimately that means always keeping our eyes on Christ, many times in the “here and now” it means sacrificing our own pleasure, blessings, or time for those in need. This is the heart of generosity—giving something beneficial to others.
Most of the time this will probably be something we have in excess—our extra time, our extra money, the extra canned goods we’ve never touched—but extreme generosity involves giving to others what we think we really need. God cannot be outdone in generosity, so when we give from that which we need, we can have faith that in one way or another, God will bless and multiply that gift. Sometimes he will reward us in this life, and he will always reward us in the next life, but the primary reason we should be generous is to meet a need that someone else has. “I was hungry and you gave me food”—when we meet another person with generosity, we embrace Christ himself.
Generosity is the heart of the Works of Mercy, evangelization, social justice, and our social nature as humans. Yet in a society that is so individualistic, materialistic, and avoidant of suffering, it can be increasingly hard to teach this virtue to our children. Generosity comes in many different forms; below are four ways you can think about generosity, as well as some ideas for helping your kids form the habit from an early age.
Four Kinds of Generosity to Teach Your Kids
Give 10% (The Tithing Method)
Tithing, which usually involves giving 10 percent of your income to a good cause, is the most common form of “church giving”—yet how many of us actually give 10 percent of our income? As a clear and consistent rule, this is the easiest for older kids and teens to understand and do. This is one argument for giving them an allowance (and even teaching them about taxes if you want), and it can start as young as five, depending on the maturity of the child.
Pay your child weekly so they get in the habit of allocating their precious funds. You could go as low as ten cents a week for a four-year-old (which would mean you’re working with pennies), but let’s take $1 as an easy-to-work-with example.
At $1 a week your child would put ten cents towards a “charity fund” every week. If you really want to teach them the ways of the world, you can tell them to save an additional ten cents for “an emergency,” and anywhere between ten and forty cents for “taxes” (put this in an account where you can go do something as a family once it gets high enough—something that benefits the whole household). That gives them anywhere between between forty and ninety cents a week for “discretionary spending.” It will start forming basic habits that they will need later in life.
Give Your Best (First Fruits Method)
In the book of Genesis, Abel gave the “firstlings of his flock” to God. In other words, he gave the best he had and before he knew if he would have enough for himself. This requires a great amount of faith that God will provide for you in giving up what you may need to survive. Children don’t have a lot of opportunity to practice this kind of generosity, but there are a few practices that can help.
Let your child choose to eat last–this can be especially effective if you have a large family. Will there be enough food? They’ll have to trust there will be. You can also have your child frequently give away toys, especially if they get new ones. If you want to be really extreme, you can have them give away one of their Christmas presents every year (maybe even before opening it). Happiness and fulfillment only comes from God, and these are a few steps anyone can take towards learning that.
Volunteer (Time, Talent, Treasure)
Money isn’t the only way to be generous, and many Parishes have recognized this by asking parishioners to give “time, talent, and treasure”. The beauty behind this is that God want’s us to give more than money–he has given us everything and he wants us to give it back in ways that benefit His kingdom. Whether its a special talent you have (sewing, carpentry, teaching), or just the ability to be flexible with your time, we all have a role to play and gifts to give in God’s kingdom.
Have your youth volunteer for a variety of different opportunities. Often the type of volunteering that we love the most is how God wants us to further His kingdom. It may also help them better discern their vocation. Also, as a family make a practice of frequently identifying and affirming each other’s gifts. It could sound something like. “I see that God has given you the gift of _____ (teaching, kindness, listening, working with your hands, etc.), and I am thankful for it because _____.” Finally, establish a habit of making time for Church, especially above and beyond Sunday Mass. Even if its just a family bible study or prayer time, it will help your youth know that God is a priority.
Give what is Needed (The Virtue of “Liberality”)
Generosity, at a fundamental level, is really about giving what is needed rather than what we want to give. It could be providing a meal to a homeless person (or a warm shower, a bed, or a suit). It could be about doing that chore that we really really hate (for me its the cat litter) because he know it needs to be done. Generosity can even be sitting and listening to someone who’s having tough time.
Teach your children to always be looking for needs to fulfill, to ask their family, friends, and church what they need, and even to be vocal about what they themselves need in order to provide other people a chance to be generous to them.