5 ways to raise good humans

An earlier version of this story appeared on imagineacity.ca in April 2017 and has been updated and edited here.

This time of year is all about giving back—to friends, family and community. And it’s never too early to get your kids—mini philanthropists-in-the-making—thinking about the importance of doing good. So we’ve put together this “cheat sheet” on simple and quick ways to start a conversation around empathy, generosity and being a good human.

1. Show them the way

“Our children are like little sponges who suck up a lot of what we say and do,” says Mary Bean, Senior Director, Culture and Leadership at Learn2. “So one great way to get them involved in helping others is to do so ourselves.” You can start doing this when your kids are young—Bean started volunteering with her little ones when they were six—by bringing them along and talking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. “Tie some purpose to your activities, and explain, ‘I do this because it’s important for…,’” Bean says. She recommends picking volunteer opportunities that are connected to your child’s world, like their soccer team, school or local playground. “That helps to bring it to a frame of reference that they can understand,” she explains. With her kids, Bean chose activities that they could be actively involved in. “I wouldn’t have brought them to a meeting where I was sitting on a board as a volunteer, or that kind of thing. It was more things like setting up for a bake sale, or getting ready for their school fun fair, so they could see the results of their efforts—and enjoy them.”

2. Get them inspired

“Volunteer experiences need to be tied to something that gives you a sense of connection and belonging as an individual. So, what is your child interested in?” says Bean. It could be volunteering at the Humane Society and giving some furry friends a little love on a Saturday morning, she says. Or, finding a way to help kids their age. “Think about the questions your child is asking about the world, or things you’re bringing up at the table over a meal that they’re asking more than one question about,” she recommends.

When they get a bit older, you can also sign kids up for programs that have a volunteer component like Girl Guides or Scouts. Or, she says, if they want to try a new activity, use that as an opening to get them to think about giving back. If, for example, they ask to be on a hockey team, make it part of the deal for them to help you do something community-minded that’s connected to the activity, such as making the weekly team snack. That way, you’ll connect good-human behaviour to something they love.

You can also encourage them to come up with their own ideas for community initiatives or ways to give back. Who knows, you might have a social innovator on your hands.

3. Make them feel appreciated

One way to help kids blossom into good humans is to make sure they feel appreciated for what they offer, notes Bean. “Kids aren’t thanked very much,” she says, so it’s a powerful thing to let them know they contributed in a meaningful way and helped others. “A sense of belonging and a sense of happiness are connected,” explains Bean, “which is why I think volunteerism is so powerful, because you’re really contributing and belonging to something bigger than yourself.” Thanking your kids, or having an organizer thank them, will make them feel that they’re now part of a wider community, encouraging them to keep giving back.

4. Broaden their minds

Part of the process of raising kids who give back is helping them learn about the world beyond their lives, says Sara Marlowe, a clinical social worker who teaches mindfulness to children and families. One great way to start these conversations is by reading books together about people with different experiences. “For younger kids, books can be a gentle way to introduce concepts,” Marlowe says. Another way to offer the idea that there are things your family may have that others may not is by guiding them to set aside some of their allowance money to donate, she explains. This can help them understand not only that people in their community are in need, but also that there is something they can do to help.

5. Foster empathy

Cultivating self-compassion and empathy is a way to build on your child’s desire to want to help, explains Marlowe. “Research shows when we’re kinder to ourselves, and more compassionate toward ourselves, we’re kinder to and more compassionate with other people,” she says. “It strengthens our ability to be empathetic.”

One way to help our kids be more empathetic is to explicitly talk about how others may be feeling. “From very early on, we can start to encourage children to be aware of others,” says Marlowe. So, point out facial expressions in a picture book and ask your child how that person feels, or if you see an incident at the playground, ask your little one to consider what that experience was like for each of the kids present.

This is also another area where you can model the behaviour you want to see. Remember, kids are like sponges, so when you show kindness and empathy to others, your children will pick up on it.

Want to learn more about how we can help kids become good humans?

You asked: Is there a right amount to give?

There’s an old saying that goes, “it’s better to give than to receive.” And as the holidays approach, we are reminded how true that is of countless Canadians who open their pocketbooks every year to help those in need.

John Hallward, Founder & Chairman GIV3 Foundation

John Hallward,
Founder & Chairman
GIV3 Foundation

A  2012 Statistics Canada report on charitable giving found nearly 24 million of us—or 84% of the population aged 15+—made a financial donation to a charitable or non-profit organization, for a total of $10.6 billion. Canadians clearly understand the importance of philanthropy.

Yet we often receive questions from many of you wondering if there’s a right or appropriate amount to give.

According to a 2010 Ipsos survey, the majority of Canadians believe the answer is 3% of income (based on an average annual household income of approximately $65,000.)

The survey also asked nearly 1,000 people across the country what they thought was a “fair and reasonable” amount to give at different income levels. As income levels got higher the answers as a percentage of income also rose.

At $200,000, for example, the majority of respondents said approximately 5% was an appropriate amount to give. This dipped to 1.8% for a personal annual income of $30,000.

In reality, however, according to Revenue Canada T1 tax returns, we only average about 0.8% of income, says John Hallward, founder and chairman of the GIV3 Foundation, a Montreal-based non-profit whose mission is to encourage Canadians to give more time and money to causes they’re passionate about. GIV3 is also involved in educating Canadians about the impact of their giving as individuals—and collectively.

Hallward explains how even a small increase in annual giving could add up to big change for society at large. “We know Canadians care—and that we have the capacity to give,” says Hallward.  “If we could get Canadians from 0.8% to 1%, that’s a $2 billion gain annually to the non-profit sector. If you can double that to 1.5% that’s an $8 billion gain,” he adds.

That’s a significant amount of additional funds to invest in important causes—here at home and globally—ranging from medical innovation and the environment to poverty and human rights.

Hallward adds: ”In a sense, we have a moral obligation to give back for all of the benefits we have received from prior generations of donors. If you can’t give money, you can contribute in other ways. You can volunteer, give blood or even teach a child the importance of donating $5 from their piggybank.”

“Philanthropy is very emotional and very personal,” he adds. “My advice to donors is to invest in causes they’re involved in and passionate about. It should actually feel good to give.”

Now we want to hear from you. Do you agree?  Is there a right amount to give?