How to teach children charity

I've written before about how I take my young kids to the food bank once in a while to give back to the community. Up until recently it's been largely an act of habit. I demonstrate to them that this is just what we do. It's an important part of our routine. I figured they'd come to fully understand when they're older. And then, Some Boy in his tiny little toddler voice said something that put it all into perspective for me.

“But why?”

This has been his favorite phrase lately. He utters it day and night about everything from his chicken nugget lunch to the clean sheets at bedtime. I do my best to offer a running dialogue of what we're doing, and I avoid the cliche “Because I said so” as much as possible. But when I strapped him into his car seat and explained that we were going to the food bank again, this inquiry caught me off-guard.

“Because, buddy, other kids aren't as lucky as you. They don't have enough food. We need to help them.”

How do you explain hunger to a child who has never gone without? How do you start teaching children charity?

I realized that what I'm imparting to him now is more than routine. It's compassion.

Teaching Children Charity

Teaching children charity

I used to teach third grade. I'm no stranger to the logic of children – I'm just not used to it from MY little ones. But time speeds on. They grow up, they understand, the comprehend and eventually they become functioning members of society who have the capacity to start life-changing movements. Our children's “But why?” could be just the beginning, and it's up to us to give them an answer.

Hunger in San Diego

The easiest way to help children relate to global issues is to bring it down to a micro-level that they can wrap their heads around. I looked up the statistics in my area and found that an astonishing 23% of children in San Diego are food insecure. That's almost 1 in 4, which comes out to about 6 children in the average elementary school class. A handful of people in your kid's class may not get dinner every night.

But why

A number like that hits you in the gut. It gets your attention. Once they have an understanding of the issue on a level that makes sense to them, help your child understand the reasoning behind the problem. Child hunger doesn't just happen. Families are already living near the edge when someone gets sick, a car breaks down, jobs get lost. Tradeoffs are made. What may be small stumbling blocks to you and I are life-altering events for others.

Hunger-Free Summer

The most important message to get across when teaching children charity is that their actions make a difference. When children view issues on a community level, their personal impact seems that much more important. Tell them how they can help movements like Child Hunger Ends Here with some simple steps. Food bank visits, hunger drives, awareness programs.

They can even participate in easy programs set up to help you help people in need. For example, ConAgra Foods is working with Feeding America to put an end to summertime hunger for children who usually rely on free school meal programs. For every full view of the video above, a meal is donated. How about THAT for putting your kid's YouTube obsession to good use!? You can learn more ways to take action at

Do you have any special tips for teaching children charity?