Giving tzedakah is a habit! When teaching, I always tell the children that they can and should have two banks: one for something they are saving for (anything from an item for a present for someone to a trip, or just because saving is a good habit to get into) and then another bank that we use to help other people. We call that bank a tzedakah box and that money is different. Giving to others is the “just” thing to do, which is why the box is named with a word that talks about justice. For children, seeing the physical box helps, even if they put in only a small amount. When money comes from Grandma for a birthday, some should go to help others — that is sometimes a hard lesson, to let go and give away.
Gail Baer in the article “Cultivating a Giving Spirit in Children” from eJewishphilanthropy.com gives some important guidelines to help develop the giving and the empathy that leads to helping others.
· Together with your children, step out of comfort zones, open their eyes and expose them to others’ lives.
· Involve your children with financial giving.
· Unlock the family philanthropy ledger and make a plan.
· Prioritize empathy and be a role model for children.
The first lesson in giving is to develop empathy, and that comes from seeing what is happening in the world, whether it be by reading or watching a program or actually helping at a food bank. Having conversations when you see someone asking for food on the street is important. We don’t just look away and even if we have nothing to give, a smile can help. Empathy should be shown by our own example and so being a role model of caring for others is so very important.
The idea of talking about financial giving and family philanthropy sounds pretty heavy-duty. However, our children don’t know what we are giving unless we tell them. It starts with their tzedakah box and discussing where they would like to give. A wonderful book, “How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter inside a Tiny Blue Box” by Linda Heller, shows how we collect the money and then it goes to buy things that are needed. There is no right place to give your money but there should be a plan (although when the tornado or fire or something comes we usually reach down and find the extra money to help). Children don’t need to know the exact amount you are giving, but talking about where you give and why helps them learn the process. They can also sit around the table and help decide. As children get older, they can understand but the most important thing is for them to see it happening and know that it’s the right thing to do. Tzedakah is about justice — charity is giving from the heart. In Judaism is gladness that you have a good heart, yet sometimes we don’t want to give but we should. The sages have told us that even a poor person should give something to tzedakah.
Bottom line: Start now and make it a habit!