All kids are born with an innate sense of charity and compassion. Sure, it's easy to lose sight of that fact as we listen to our little ones clamor for the hottest toys, tastiest treats, and trendiest clothes. But if we look closely, the signs are everywhere. Watch your 2-year-old stop to offer a wailing baby a comforting toy. Catch your 5-year-old consoling a pal who has just been walloped by a playground bully.
"Children naturally look for ways to make a contribution and help others," says Deborah Spaide, founder of Kids Care Clubs, a national organization based in New Canaan, CT, that provides information on community-service projects for youngsters. "But just as we give our children opportunities to use their legs when they're learning to walk, we need to give them opportunities to exercise their charitable muscles so they become really good at giving too."
The benefits of actively fostering children's charitable impulses are enormous. Besides helping counter the overdeveloped "gimme" impulse, it gives kids a powerful boost in self-esteem to realize they can make a difference in someone's life. "And as corny as it sounds," says Patricia Schiff Estess, a New York City writer and the author of Kids, Money & Values, "when you help a child help others, you are helping to create a better world." Here are the best ways to go about it.
Diane Harris is writing a book on women and finance.