5 steps to help instill positive values in your kids through service

Toddler sitting in shopping basket on skateboard

As parents, we have endless hopes for our children. Among them: To be brave. Be smart. Be kind. That last trait may be critical in building a foundation upon which all other good traits can follow.

And I’m not alone: A recent Fidelity Charitable study on parenting and philanthropy found that many parents hope positive values like kindness, generosity, and empathy are instilled in their child through giving back and volunteering. The report also found that, while they’re under 18, more than three-quarters (81%) of the children of parents who give are also most likely to donate or volunteer, with nearly half doing so on their own. So, it seems that modeling kindness and generosity works!

I know this firsthand. As the mom of two kids, I made a point of laying a solid philanthropic foundation for them when they were young. Now 17 and 21, my children have continued on that path with our family and on their own.

Here are five easy steps to help you add kindness to your family routine with intentionality, helping to plant the giving seed early and often. 

Step 1: Find your family’s “why” by asking your kids about their friends and hobbies.

“Who should we help and why?” It’s a big question when there are millions of charities to support worldwide. Here are some questions to kick-start your family’s brainstorm—and get your kids invested in the “why” of giving back:

  • What’s your child’s favorite hobby, sport, or interest? How can your child help their peers without access to that activity enjoy it, too?
  • What’s your child’s favorite food? (Think pantry items like canned fruit or pasta, boxed mashed potatoes, or even gluten-free crackers.) Is there a local food bank that could use that staple?
  • Where have you vacationed? How can you improve that location or help others enjoy the same magic?
  • What charities are in your neighborhood? What’s on their wish lists?
  • What charities do your child’s friends and their families give back to through volunteering or donations?

Once you’ve shared your giving ideas, commit to action together as a family.

Step 2: Mark a few days for giving back on your calendar. 

You’ve found your why. Now find your days.

Historically, the winter holidays are the peak generosity season. But if you’re a parent like me who wants to instill values like kindness and generosity throughout the year, there are plenty of other national and global days of giving to keep in mind. Here are some that may already be on your child’s school calendar:

  • January: Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service
  • February: Random Acts of Kindness Day
  • April: Earth Day
  • September 11: 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance
  • First Tuesday after Thanksgiving: GivingTuesday

Don’t forget: Birthdays, religious holidays, and national holidays are other great days to pay kindness forward.

Step 3: Plan your act of service.

You’ve picked your cause. Now comes the creative part because “act of service” can mean anything from paying for the next customer’s ice cream to a family trip to donate clothes. If you’re feeling ambitious, maybe plan a volunteer activity on your next vacation or sign up for a local 5K run by a charity.

Parents who participated in the Fidelity Charitable study preferred tangible, hands-on activities and said that conversations about generosity with their kids often happened spontaneously. Remember: You don’t need to “Go big or go home.” Small, everyday acts add up.

Step 4: Spot-check your progress.

You’ve engaged in service. Now’s the time to check in on the seeds you’ve planted.

  • Ask your kids:
    • “How do you think our last activity went? What did you like best or least?”
    • “What could we do next time to help even more people?”
    • “Did our activity change how you think about things?”
    • “Did our activity inspire you to volunteer at school or give back on your own?”

Check the website or social media channels of the charities you helped; most have updates or publish an annual impact report showing how your support has helped their success. Share some stats or photos with your kids to reinforce how their acts of service make a difference.

Step 5: Repeat!

You’ve completed some great acts of service as a family. The next time the whole gang’s together: Look at the next service day you’ve marked on the calendar, think about what charity’s on deck, and plan some small ways to give back. Continue to check in.

With every small act of service we do together as a family, we empower our children to adopt the habit and, hopefully, continue to follow in our footsteps on their own. Take it from Fidelity Charitable donor Amanda Millerberg, who rallied her family to feed hungry children during the pandemic.

Millerberg and husband Spencer created a family mission statement to serve as a compass for their five kids: “A Millerberg is kind, hardworking, and faithful.” For them, generosity is a way of life, with the goal of raising children to become adults who are empathetic, aware, and responsible.

“We want them to learn to recognize the needs of others, and have the ability to figure out how to help efficiently and effectively,” Millerberg said. “You can’t turn that stuff on all the sudden when they turn 18—you have to give them the life experiences they need to strengthen those muscles first.” 

Elaine Chu

Elaine Chu  

Vice President of Philanthropic Strategies 

Elaine Chu joined Fidelity Charitable in 2022 as Vice President of Philanthropic Strategies for the Private Donor Group. She is passionate about engaging and working with donors and their families to create equitable social and system change. With more than 25 years of nonprofit experience, Elaine came to Fidelity Charitable from the Seattle Foundation, where she oversaw a team of philanthropic advisors and was a thought leader in building programs and services focused on family philanthropy, next-gen engagement, collaborative funding and learning, and youth philanthropy. 

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