How to teach kids to give back — plus easy ways they can help others

How to teach your kids to give back and help others this holiday season and beyond. (Photo: Getty Images)
How to teach your kids to give back and help others this holiday season and beyond. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kids often get a slew of presents over the holidays, which can leave some parents wondering how to better balance all of that receiving with some giving. The answer is that they can play a big role in this, both by talking to their kids about giving back and setting an example themselves by helping others.

“It is important to teach children about giving to others as one way of fostering generosity and empathy in them,” Jeincy Duarte, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, tells Yahoo Life.

Alicia Ortego, a teacher and children’s book author who often writes about gratitude and kindness, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “I think it’s important to talk about this because it is one of the many ways we can teach children to be compassionate, kind, caring, loving, understanding and big-hearted.”

Quinn Lemmers

So where should parents and caregivers begin? Duarte recommends starting by modeling the behavior and having your kids see you helping others, as well as “finding opportunities for children to give, and encouraging and praising their positive giving actions and empathetic behaviors,” she says.

Read books about kindness

Duarte says that younger children can benefit from reading developmentally appropriate stories or books that teach them about “generosity and giving to others,” adding, “Stories can encourage children to think of people who may need help, consider how someone may feel in those circumstances, and have empathy for their needs.” Scholastic has a list of the best books about caring and helping others, and Penguin Random House’s Brightly has a list of picture books to teach younger children about giving back, which you can read with your child.

Start small

Kids naturally want to help. Ortego recommends starting with “small things,” such as “showing everyday examples of how kids can actually notice that someone or something needs help,” such as helping a younger sibling reach something on a higher shelf or pitching in to help a teacher clean up after an art project at school. Other suggestions:

  • Buy a houseplant. Choose a flower or plant that needs to be taken care of on a regular basis, suggests Ortego. “You know what happens if they forget to water it,” she says. “And just like the flower, we all need a little care to live, prosper, and to be happy.” Some flowers that are easy to care for include daisies, nasturtiums or zinnias.

  • Help an elderly person in your neighborhood. “Not only do these people need physical help, but they need companionship,” says Ortego. “If you know someone who seems to be alone, become friends with them.” You can start by simply knocking on their door and introducing yourself and your family, baking cookies with your kids and bringing them to a neighbor, or offering to help run an errand when they need it, such as picking up groceries.

  • Bedtime talks. “Before your kids go to bed, talk to them,” says Ortego. “Discuss all the good and unpleasant things that happened to them or they observed. The good things will teach them to be grateful. As for the unpleasant ones, ask how they think they could help in those situations.”

Ortego says that the goal of these everyday actions is to teach kids to “notice those who need help and learn to appreciate everything they already have.”

Involve them in the process of giving

“Even though some children may be too young to buy a present, parents can have their children participate when giving to others, such as help make or select a present or item for another child, teacher, family member, sibling, someone in need or those who are less fortunate,” suggests Duarte.

Young children can also help pick out toys or clothes they’ve outgrown to donate to a local toy drive or charity, or books they no longer need to donate to a children’s hospital or daycare center. “It’s such a sweet moment when you choose these books,” says Ortego. “Kids get so passionate because someone will be reading books they truly value so much.”

In addition, they can help collect food from your pantry to donate to people in need, and then decorate the paper bag that the food goes in. When possible, have your children join you when dropping off the donations to have them be a part of the whole experience.

Make something together as a family to give to others

Create a homemade card, bake banana bread, or make soup you cook together as a family for someone in need, such as an elderly neighbor, or just to show a friend, family member or teacher that you’re thinking of them. “The main idea is kids actually putting an effort to deliver something nice to different people,” says Ortego.

Budget for charitable giving

While teaching children about how to budget their money, you can talk to them about setting aside some money solely to give to others: “One way to teach kids responsibility about money is to teach them about percentages,” Dr. Alison Escalante writes in Psychology Today. “For instance, they get 70 percent of their allowance now, 20 percent goes to savings, and 10 percent goes to charitable giving.”

Look into volunteering opportunities for older children

“Older children can help give back by not only donating toys and items, but also volunteering at community events, such as a local toy drive, food drive, clothing drive, or fundraising event,” says Duarte. “Parents can also encourage children to give back by selecting a charity of their choice or interest for the family to donate to.”

If your older kid is passionate about animals, for example, you can look into volunteer opportunities at animal shelters, or if they care about the environment, they can volunteer to clean up a local park, beach or river. Or they can use social media to help raise money for a good cause. Not sure where to start? has many campaigns — from hunger to homelessness — that youth can get involved in.

While it’s good to talk to kids about helping others over the holidays, experts say the key is for parents to continue to model kindness throughout the year. “Parents play a significant role in their children’s lives,” says Duarte. “Children learn by watching others, particularly their parents. Therefore, it will be important for parents to model generous behaviors. Giving to others can take place during the holidays and the year.”

Duarte adds: “Overall, as a parent or caregiver, you are looking for ways to reinforce the importance of giving to others, as well as teaching that giving can be as rewarding as receiving.”

As Ortego puts it: “Every day is a great chance to be good to each other, to be kind, to care.”