7 Steps to Raising Generous Children

It’s one of the biggest contributors to success in life, but it’s an uncomfortable topic, so we put it off. This is the approach many parents and youth leaders take when it comes to having “the financial talk.” Yet we know that good financial habits, including generosity, are one of the best predictors of adult success. Without a good financial foundation, we are setting our children and teens up for failure.

As with any topic this big, it gets overwhelming quickly and energy soon fades. To elaborate on the famous verse in Proverbs, where there is no clear path for the future, the people perish. So let’s make a path.

I recently had a chance to sit down with Ron Lieber, money columnist for The New York Times, and author of the book, The Opposite of Spoiled. I asked him for a bit of next generation financial advice, specifically for parents and church youth leaders.

What follows is a practical seven-step guide to cultivating a culture of generosity in our homes and churches to help us raise generous children.

Step 1: Don’t Be Deceived, Be Intentional

As parents and leaders, we have a lot going on. The thought of sitting down with our children or teenagers to talk to them about their finances slips down the priority list. We assume that our own giving habits will somehow transfer automatically to the next generation without our instruction. Don’t be deceived. Be intentional. Do it this week. Do it tonight.

A great resource parents are using to help their kiddos with generosity is storytelling. Discover 29 stories from people just like you that help cultivate generosity in even the youngest hearts. Download the free ebook, Start With Generosity, today!

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Step 2: Lead with a Question

I believe that the difference between those aged 35+ and those 13-34 can be summed up in two words: Communication versus conversation. The communication approach to charitable giving sounds like this, “It’s what the Bible says,” maybe even, “These are the principles of truth and if you have an obedient heart you will follow them.” Communication comes from the top down and leaves little room for negotiation. We must obey.

Conversation, on the other hand, starts with a question, “Who do you see that is hurting or in need?” This begins a dialogue about perspective. Are we seeing the world through our own eyes, or are we moved to see the world through the eyes of others?

In Ron’s book, he gives this great commentary on the financial talk: “And running through all of these conversations is a desire for kids to have perspective—to know why they may have more than most people in the world, but will probably never have more than every one of their peers. And why there’s no shame in having more or less, as long as you’re grateful for what you have, share it generously with others, and spend it wisely on the things that make you happiest. It’s true for our kids, but it’s true for us too.”

Step 3: The Three Jars

Once you’ve asked THE question, then it’s time to take action. Ron suggests setting three jars on the kitchen counter with the labels spend, save, and give. As a family, decide which percentage of earnings goes into each jar. Maybe it is give 10 percent, spend 60 percent, and save 30 percent. Make this a part of the conversation.

And, as Ron describes in his book, “Every conversation about money is also about values. Allowance is also about patience. Giving…generosity. Work…perseverance.”

Step 4: Remove the Fear of Black Holes

Perhaps it’s losing a tooth or $5 in a birthday card, but these first money moments for kids create excitement, followed quickly by a curiosity of what to do with this money and how to get more.

A big concern for parents is the money black hole, which is why, at this first critical juncture, Ron encourages parents to make sure the three jars are in place. We sometimes cringe at the thought of our children having money because we worry that any money earned will be wasted, never to be seen again, spent on frivolous pursuits.

Bonus points can be earned by offering to double any money that makes its way into the give jar.

Step 5: Turn a Teenager’s Smartphone into an Opportunity Rather Than a Distraction

Any parent or teen leader can relate to the feeling of annoyance we get when we watch teenagers put in their daily, 8-hour-glued-to-their-smartphone shift. Apps like ours at Pushpay attempt to shine some light into this space. Once registered, teens can set up recurring payments to their church or a charitable organization. We suggest starting with $1 a week. Each gift will trigger an email, reminding them of their donation.

It sounds small, but remember—it’s not about the amount. It’s about the habit.

Step 6: 100 Beans

Every year, Ron suggests sitting down with your young adults and spreading out 100 beans next to all the annual donation letters. Then, show how the beans were distributed last year. Perhaps 15 beans (15 percent of charitable money) went to a missions organization, 25 went to the local food bank and the remaining beans go to the church. Then ask the question, “What should we do next year?” This kind of transparency allows children and young adults to think about the things that are important to them.

Step 7: We’re in the Business of Raising Adults

Teens want to feel capable and in control. They will jump at the chance to be involved in adult decision-making. And at the end of the day, the whole purpose of parenting and teenage mentoring is to produce adults who contribute to society. Giving back on a regular basis is one of the responsibilities of a good adult citizen.

As influencers of young adults, it needs to be a primary focus of ours to facilitate this transformation. Find ways to cheer on their progress. When they save up for a few weeks and walk into the church with their “give jar” of money, take a picture of the donation. Bring a balloon and make it an occasion. It’s these warm, emotional moments that will be remembered fondly. They’ll want to do it again.

Teenagers may appear to have a harder exterior than children, but as Danny Silk points out in his book, Loving Your Kids on Purpose, even teenagers long for connection, purpose and to make somebody proud. Try out these same principles with your teen and be pleasantly surprised at the results. You’ll even have something to talk about at the dinner table.

Another great resource parents can use during everyday interactions with their kids is the free ebook, Start With Generosity. It’s filled with great stories of people just like you displaying openness, and is perfect for cultivating healthy generosity. Click here to download for free today!

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