charity

How I’m Trying to Teach Charity to My Toddler

Cute curly toddler girl in a colorful dress washing dishes, cleaning with a sponge and playing with foam in the sink in a beautiful sunny white kitchen with a garden view window in a modern home

My 2-year-old daughter was very pleased with her medal. OK, it was plastic, and it had a strangely unappealing picture on it, and the purple ribbon had broken, but nonetheless, she kept holding it, exclaiming, “My medal, my medal!”

She’d received this medal and a matching sticker for participating in the “Big Toddle” at her nursery. This was a charity walk (well, toddle, since it was for tiny children) aimed at raising money for a major children’s organization here in the UK. The children at my daughter’s nursery were all sponsored by various relatives and friends, and the kids seemed thrilled to have participated and to have raised nearly £600.

A couple of weeks later, there was another small charity event at the nursery, and my daughter got really excited about dropping coins into the little metal box so she could buy raffle tickets. She didn’t care that we didn’t win the raffle; she just enjoyed handling and donating the money.

Tzedakah and tikkun olam are fundamental Jewish concepts. And I’ve been pondering how my wife and I can best pass on the importance of helping others to our daughter—without the promise of a medal.

We already give money to various charities on a monthly or yearly basis, but that’s not something she sees us do, nor would she really understand it. For such a young child, money doesn’t have a lot of meaning yet. In a few years, though, we’ll be able to talk her through the process and maybe she’ll want to take part in choosing some of the charities or projects we support (DonorsChoose is fantastic for that, I think). She may even want to decide to spend some of her own money on donations.

Then there’s the actual doing of volunteer work, rather than simply financially supporting charities. Before we had our daughter, my wife and I volunteered at our local group for lesbian and bisexual women, but we unfortunately don’t have time for that now. I volunteer as a breastfeeding counsellor on the UK’s breastfeeding helpline, but I so far have always taken calls when my daughter is otherwise engaged, so I can really focus on the women I’m talking to (and of course the calls should be confidential, not that I think a toddler will be spreading gossip at the playground). When she’s a bit older, I can tell her about what I do and why I do it.

In the future, we can also try to do volunteer work as a family, such as at a soup kitchen, or we can encourage her to do some through school, such as tutoring. I found volunteer work meaningful when I was a child and teen, and I was also inspired by my mother’s dedication to it, particularly her work at a hospice. I’ve seen how volunteering benefits both the volunteer as well as the organization and its clients, and I hope my child will also experience that.

But that still leaves us of the question of what we can do to instill our belief in helping others in our daughter now. She’s only 26 months, but she understands that people have different feelings and experiences, so she can start to comprehend the importance of giving to others who perhaps have a harder life. So events like the “Big Toddle” at her nursery are great for that, especially if we also talk through where the money is going and how it will help others.

We also try to sometimes pick up some extra items when we go grocery shopping, and then we take those boxes of cereal or cans of tomatoes and drop them off in a collection for a food bank. It’s very simple to explain that we’re giving the food to people who don’t have as much as we do, and it’s also fun for our daughter to help hunt for these objects on the shelves in the store. She was surprised to learn that not everyone has enough food to eat, and she has taken to saying, “Give food to charity!”

We are so lucky and privileged, and we want to be able to share that with others while also not taking what we have for granted, so teaching our daughter about charity and doing good deeds is essential. While her excitement about her medal was lovely, we want to take it a step further and really help tzedakah and tikkun olam become engrained ideas in her life.

Ideas are welcome. For now, we’ll focus on small actions, such as at the grocery store or her nursery, highlighting how good giving makes you feel. You don’t always actually get a medal, but you always feel like you do.


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The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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