As most parents do, I often think about my children and wonder what kind of adults they will be when they grow up. I hope they will become altruistic individuals, giving more than they take from the world. But my children are constantly bombarded by messages from celebrities and ads that scream the opposite – that pursuing one’s own luxury and comfort leads to happiness.

How do parents tune out the mantra of “gimme” and replace it with a spirit of generosity? Try these simple steps to put your child on the path to philanthropy.

Model a Life of Giving

“Children are watching all the time and you need to ‘walk the walk,’” says Ellen Sabin, author of The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving. “There are dozens of things that you can do every day to demonstrate giving. When kids see parents doing those things, they want to do them, too.”

Sabin wrote the book about giving as a gift for her then six-year-old niece, Leah.

“It was a recipe for a happy life,” Sabin says. “I was hoping to show her she was powerful and could change the world around her and that it feels good to do that.”

Adopt a Charity Annually

Sabin suggests that family members choose a charity together to support each year. “Join an annual walk for autism, cancer, or any other charitable cause,” Sabin says. “When you are at the dinner table talking, decide how you want to spend your philanthropic dollars together.”

Since children often connect with helping animals, consider a charity walk that benefits pet rescue or animal adoption.

Another idea would be to participate in Heifer International’s “Read to Feed,” a program in which an individual child or group of children find financial sponsors and then read a designated amount. The money they earn then goes to Heifer International to provide education, tools and livestock to feed millions of families around the globe (learn more at

Donate Your Time

While it is important to donate money whenever we can, it is also important to give time out of our busy schedules to help others. Take your children with you when you volunteer at a local homeless shelter, food drive, animal shelter or school fundraiser, and deviate from your own schedule to do something special with your child. Children pick up on our subtle clues as to what is important, and that is how they will invest their time as they grow into adults.

Take Care of the Environment

One simple way to teach children to give is to teach them to be kind to the earth. Start a recycling program at your child’s school or pick up trash together. Grow a garden in your backyard or volunteer to work in a community garden. Donate some of the produce you harvest to a local soup kitchen. You will help others in need and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

Recently my own children and I volunteered during an annual waterway cleanup near our community. When we cleared a creek of litter with other helpers, it made an impression on my son, Andrew, who felt a sense of accomplishment when he realized he was helping keep a habitat clean for creek life.

Keep It Simple

I often feel overwhelmed when I consider all of the people and organizations that need help. But teaching children to help others includes more than donating time and money. Let someone in front of you at the grocery store check-out line or let other drivers go first in a crowded parking lot. Smile and say please and thank you to restaurant servers, store clerks, mail carriers and trash collectors. I tell my children how much those particular employees improve our lives. Always look for opportunities to model kindness and compassion, and children will do the same.

Make Giving Part of Everyday Life

I know one mom who teaches her daughter to put quarters in the carts for rent at her local grocery, and another who teaches her children to be considerate at parties by helping the host, picking up after themselves and including children younger than them during games. The simple act of giving a cup of cold water to siblings when playing in the heat or sharing hand warmers and mittens with neighborhood friends when it’s cold helps kids focus on others.

Give All Year

One year, during the holidays, I did my annual sweep, looking for cans of food that had sat in the pantry all year and clothes that were ready to go to Goodwill. As I did this, it occurred to me that more than consciously meeting someone’s need, I was treating giving like an end-of-the-year afterthought. I realized that if I really wanted my children to have giving spirits, I needed to give year round and enlist their help.

Instead, try picking out non-perishable food at the grocery routinely and taking it to a food pantry. Every season go through outgrown clothes and toys and let children help choose what to give away. Talk about who might be a good recipient for the items.

Every day there are opportunities in the world around us to give. Choose one of them and start down the road of lifelong giving with your child today.

Janeen Lewis is a freelance journalist and mom of two who has a heart for feeding the hungry. She has been published in several parenting publications across the country and in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings .

10 Easy Ways to Teach Kids Compassion

1. Rake leaves, mow grass or shovel snow for a neighbor in need.

2. Send care packages to a relative or friend who is away at college or in the military.

3. Visit your local nursing home and read to a resident.

4. Take a meal to a new mom.

5. Contact your local parks and recreation department to find out about volunteer events that keep your community’s parks and waterways clean. Participate as a family.

6. Start a lemonade stand or have a yard sale and donate your earnings to charity.

7. Volunteer at an animal shelter or pet store that sponsors pet adoption. Help clean up after, care for and feed the pets.

8. Let your child choose a charity. Then let them earn money for household chores and donate the money to the cause.

9. Fill clear storage bags with items such as socks, hand warmers, change, a bottle of water, lip balm, and contact information for food banks and shelters. Pass the bags out your vehicle window to the homeless at intersections.

10. During the holidays, invite a friend who is alone or lives far from relatives to a family gathering.

10 Picture Books That Teach Kids to Care

1. The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin

2. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

3. When Stories Fell Like Shooting Stars by Valiska Gregory

4. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

5. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

6. Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier

7. The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway

8. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

9. Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

10. Kids’ Random Acts of Kindness by Conari Press