How to Raise Radically Engaged Kids

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By Laura Tarbutton

Most parents want to raise their children to be considerate, empathic, and socially-conscious members of our global community. But how can you instill such character in your little ones within a culture that often values competition, ego, and material accumulation? How do you nourish an intrinsic desire to help others without it feeling like a dutiful chore? Furthermore, how do you help children move beyond the stages of awareness and emotions to an action-oriented state of radical compassion?

Establish a Charitable Family Culture

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you are already engaged in many of the behaviors you hope to someday see from your children: making charitable donations, volunteering with non-profits, engaging in conversations with your peers, mowing a neighbor’s lawn, or rounding up your grocery tab for a local animal shelter.

Be intentional about allowing your children to witness your efforts and frequently share why they’re important to you. If you have not been as engaged with your community as you would like, share that with them, as well! Then, work as a family to clarify your intentions and map out an action plan.

Focus on What They Can Do

News headlines, especially this year, can be overwhelming for all of us, especially children. Have conversations that help them see what steps they can take to make a difference. Emphasize improving situations rather than solving them. Ending world hunger is a daunting challenge, but delivering groceries to a local food bank helps a family share a healthy and nutritious meal together.

When children feel that they are making a direct impact, it reinforces their ability to be a changemaker.

Provide Hands-On Experiences

Create experiences with your kids to help them personally engage. Start by researching the work of a handful of local non-profits to see which one piques their interest most. Together, you can call the organization to schedule a site visit, which is an impactful way for them to learn what they do and why they do it. Ask if they have any opportunities for your child to help support their work. Things like handwritten letters, new houseplants for the office, or a bake-sale fundraiser will be greatly appreciated by non-profit staff and beneficiaries alike.

Give Them Autonomy

Give the gift of giving to your child by giving them a budget designated for charities. This can be cash or something official like Fidelity Charitable’s Gift4Giving. Help guide them through a decision-making process. Worry less about which cause they support; celebrate the acts of self-reflection and forming personal values.

What specific issue do they care about most, and what organizations are addressing it? Do they want to give it all to one organization or divide it between a few? In families with multiple children, it can be fun to have each make a presentation on their favorite charity so that the whole family can get in on the excitement.

It is never too early to start instilling a sense of community and compassion for others. From infanthood, you can read books and tell stories about sharing, caring, and speaking up for others. Children can bring light and hope into the world through their time and presence alone, and the more they are given the opportunity to engage, the more it will become part of their identity.

If your family has found additional ways to engage your children in philanthropy and radical compassion, we’d love to hear them! You can also partner with our team to develop an age-appropriate family giving plan.

Laura Tarbutton is the philanthropic program manager at Brighton Jones.

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