Teaching Children to Give

October 15th, 2012

Parents want their children to be generous.  

Among the first words we teach them are "momma", "dadda", "yes" and "no."  

Somehow they learn "mine." Then we teach them "share."

It pleases us when we see them give.  And it pains us when they are selfish with their stuff.  As they grow, they will encounter the same challenges we do as adults – generous living does not come naturally to us.

As father to four children ages 5 to 16, below are some ways we strive to pass along biblical generosity in the Anderson home.

Set their giving standard

As soon as our children are old enough to count their own money, we teach them to divide it into thirds: a third for saving, a third for spending and a third for giving. We are currently beginning this process with our five-year old, Autumn.  

Whenever our kids receive money - from chores, birthdays, gifts, etc. - they set aside a third and put it in their “giving” envelope. Separating into thirds is easy. And by giving a third of their money to God, they learn that giving is as important as saving and spending. As children, they have no taxes to pay or clothes to buy. There's room in their budgets to give this way. After all, as parents, we provide their needs.  

By separating their money into thirds, we give them a bigger vision for their giving. But to them, it won't seem like a "big" giving standard.  It will simply be all they know.

They are amazed how quickly their giving envelope will grow.  You will be too.  If one of my sons is saving for a $50 or $100 purchase, it's not uncommon for them to have an equal amount in their giving envelope.  Even at a very young age, our children quickly learn the feeling of giving away an amount that really matters to them.

Provide direction

We don’t teach our children that we must tithe 10% to the church.  But we do stress the biblical command to “share financially where we are being fed spiritually.”  Because the local church is our family’s most regular and familiar point of contact for worship and learning about God, a healthy share of our giving goes in that direction.  For our children, I'm not sure if its 10% or not – my hunch is that it's much more. 

Turn them loose

As our children grow older, we relax the structure.  We teach our children that 33% is not a biblical standard, and that the Bible teaches that each of us is responsible for setting our own standards. At a certain point, allow your children to determine their gifts amounts.  It's healthy for them to wrestle with these decisions.

When Austin was 14, he made quite a haul shoveling driveways during an extraordinary snowstorm.  With nearly $200 cash in his hands, he struggled with his giving formula.  When he had much less and his purchasing ability was smaller, it was easier for him to give abundantly. But when he had more idle cash, and more things on his mind to buy, he found it more challenging to give increasingly so.  

It was a great lesson for him – at a young age he learned about the same healthy tension that we wrestle with as adults.  This tension mirrors the giving patterns of the world today.  Statistics show that the wealthy give less, as a percentage of income, than the middle and lower class who depend on more limited incomes.

You can experiment with the right age for helping your children explore these financial freedoms.  Keep in mind, there are no rules.  

Encourage them to read about givers 

Cade just turned 12 years old.  Next summer I will offer him the book reading deal like I did with Austin several years ago.  This is when I pay my children to read an assortment of books about various faith heroes - and legendary givers, too.  I make the offer a lucrative one.  They like to read, but an incentive helps.  A little cash does wonders for their enthusiasm.

Among this list includes books such as The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn, Stanley Tam's Incredible Adventures with God by Stanley Tam, and The Autobiography of George Muller. These books can spark good conversation.  More importantly, they get the juices flowing in their hearts as they begin to experience giving situations of their own.

I also recommend a classic, The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason.  Although not a faith-based message, it does present some timeless financial truths my children will learn later in life.  This book also allows me to discuss with them the difference between the world’s perspective and God’s perspective of money.  I explain to them that sometimes we may give at the expense of what the world calls financial security.  I explain that when biblical wisdom runs counter to worldly wisdom, faith enters into the equation.

Engage them in your giving

Of course one of the best ways to teach your children to give is for them to see it played out in real life. 

The doorbell rang one afternoon and Austin followed me to the door.  He was 11 years old at the time. Greeting us at the door was a young lady in a motorized wheelchair, a quadriplegic.  Her name was Melissa, and she was raising money for a mission trip to Germany.  It was one of those unusual but divine encounters in which I sensed that we would do something.

After listening to her appeal (she needed $900), Austin and I stepped back inside.  I shared with him the situation.  I explained that we could do nothing… or that we could give all that she needed.  I wanted him to understand the full scope of options.

We said a short prayer and then I looked up and asked him, "what if we give $250?"  

Austin quickly said, "I was thinking $450 - that would be half."  

I was impressed with his thinking.  And I trusted his instincts.  So that's what we did.

We explained to Melissa that we were in for $450.  She was stunned (she had just a few dollars and some change in large tub in her lap).  We explained that when she raised the other half, we would give the rest.  Sure enough, she raised the money and one week later Austin accompanied me to deliver the check to her trip sponsor.

When you have opportunity, engage your children in your family giving.  They will likely draw on these experiences some day in their own giving journeys. 

Connect their giving to God's blessings – that's God's smile

One of the reasons I want my children to give generously is because I want them to experience God's blessings.

One weekend Austin took the time to get caught up on his bookkeeping.  After many weeks of just stashing cash in his notebook, Austin finally took the time to organize his money envelopes.  After squaring away his “giving” envelope, he asked me if I would drive him downtown to give the money to the homeless shelter.  It was Saturday and I did not want to make a downtown trip.  But we did anyway.  

The next week Austin was given an opportunity to work at a basketball tournament over multiple weekends.  I’ll never forget his email to me from school.  "Thank you dad for taking me downtown to give my gift - God has blessed me because of it."

Help your children connect their giving to the work of God's hand in their lives.  Like Austin, they will likely recognize it themselves first.  Remind them that God notices their gifts and is pleased when His children bring gifts to Him.  The Christian journey is a faith walk.  We don’t see God with our eyes or hear Him with our ears.  Instead we believe in something and someone we cannot see.  That is why it's called faith.  

When children give acceptable gifts and experience the blessings of God, that's God's smile. And when God smiles, His children will smile… and as parents raising children to know and please God, you will smile too.

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