Most people tend to associate charity with giving money. We write a check to our favorite cause, drop a few dollars in the basket at church, participate in school fund-raisers, and feel good about our efforts. But preadolescent children may have trouble understanding such an abstract concept as donating money to a worthy cause. "It's hard for kids to grasp that the money is going to, say, buy bread, which in turn will help feed ten homeless people," says Spaide. "Many children can't take the process that many steps forward in their minds."
Spaide encourages parents to let their children experience charitable giving firsthand. Even a preschooler can help a parent bag lunches for a soup kitchen, distribute socks to the people in a homeless shelter, or clean an elderly neighbor's yard. And as children grow, so do their opportunities for making a difference.
In choosing a project, try following your child's lead and interests. The more you let her direct the process, the greater the involvement she'll feel and the more she'll learn from the experience. Suppose your 6-year-old has expressed concern that poor children don't get enough toys. You might ask her if she can think of ways to collect and distribute toys to needy kids. Perhaps she'd like to do extra chores around the house to earn some money to buy the toys herself. Or she might suggest posting a sign in school to solicit toy donations from her classmates.
Of course, if your child is stuck for inspiration, there's nothing wrong with gently leading her to a worthy path. One book that's full of ideas for suitable projects: Spaide's Teaching Your Kids to Care. Also consider helping your child band together with friends to do good works by helping her launch a Kids Care Club.