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Teaching Your Kids Kindness: Give to Those Less Fortunate Than You

This lesson is a part of an audio course Teaching Your Kids Kindness and Patience by Paul Andrew Smith

In this lesson, we're going to turn our attention a very specific type of kindness – charity. You know, learning to be generous with what we have is hard. By nature, we're selfish. Our instincts drive us to find food, shelter, and clothing – not for other people, but for ourselves. Nurturing compassion and generosity for others means demonstrating it through your own behavior, but also celebrating it when you see it in your young person or in others. Here's a case in point.

At one point in her career, Kim Dedeker lived in Caracas, Venezuela with her husband and five-year-old son, Bryan. As an executive on foreign assignment with a U.S. company, Kim's job made them quite wealthy by local standards. Per capita income in Venezuela is about $13,000 a year, with thirty percent of the population living on less than $2 a day.

In addition to being a poor country, it's also a dangerous one. Caracas has the second-highest murder rate of any large city in the world. Accepting the assignment, there was a difficult, but deliberate decision. Kim believes it's only by taking risks that some of life's greatest rewards are possible. And one of the most touching examples of that for her happened in Caracas on the way to the toy store.

Bryan had been saving his money for months to be able to buy one of the wildly popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures to add to his collection. He'd finally saved up enough money— 800 Bolivars in a local currency, about twenty U.S. Dollars. So, Kim strapped Bryan into the back seat of their car and started the drive to the toy store.

But Unlike a drive to a toy store in the U.S., there is no way to drive across Caracas without coming face to face with the harsh reality of local life. Poverty is all around you. But it was the danger that was on Kim's mind as they left their compound of largely U.S. expatriate homes and apartments. Kidnappings and carjackings were not unusual. As a result, it's common practice to not even come to a stop at an intersection if you can avoid it, and you certainly don't roll down your windows.

Well, on their way to the toy store, Kim came to an intersection and had to stop for a red light with oncoming traffic. She noticed a woman on the corner that by appearances she assumed to be homeless. In her arms, she held a baby of about 18-months of age; and standing beside her was a young boy, about the same age as Bryan. The two mothers made eye contact with each other—one destitute, and one well off. Both surely considering what life might be like for the other for that brief instant in time.

While still waiting for the light to turn green, the boy outside began walking toward the car. As any protective mother would, Kim's immediate concern turned to her own safety and that of her son. Is this how the many unfortunate incidents start—with the distraction of a child? But the mothers weren't the only ones who'd made eye contact. The boy saw Bryan in the back seat as well, and it was his window he was approaching.

Before Kim could react, Bryan rolled down his window. The two boys were face to face with each other, separated by only a few inches of space, but separated even further by language and the harsh contrast of their economic realities. Without exchanging a single word, Bryan reached into his pocket, pulled out his 800 Bolivars, and handed it to the young boy through the window. The traffic light turned green, and Kim cautiously continued through the intersection.

The next few minutes passed quietly while both Kim and Bryan processed what had just happened. Kim finally broke the silence by asking, "What are you feeling right now?"

Thoughtfully, he responded, "I'm feeling really good, Mom, because I think that little boy needed that money a lot more than I needed another Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle."

As you can imagine, Kim was marveling at the selflessness her five-year-old had just shown. She debated in her head what to do when they got to the toy store. Should she reward her son's generosity by buying him the toy anyway? Or should she afford him the full experience of giving by feeling the loss required to be truly charitable?

Well, when they arrived, they found the exact figure Bryan was after—a rare one imported from the U.S., unlikely to be there on a future trip. That made Kim's decision even harder. Bryan looked at the price tag on the figure and said to his mom, "It's 810 Bolivars."

"You're right," Kim responded, "You almost had enough."

"But I don't have any now," he said, just fully realizing the impact of his decision in the car a few minutes earlier.

Having made her decision, Kim offered, "I could buy it for you, if you want."

But after another thoughtful pause, Bryan said, "No. I don't think I want it today."

"Are you sure? I don't mind getting it for you."

"Yeah I know," "But I can probably get that turtle anytime I won't, either because I'll save my money again, or because you can afford to buy it for me. It just doesn't feel important now."

Of course, you probably can't give money to every needy person that crosses your path, in some cases that might not even be a good idea for you or for them. And that's a great conversation to have with your young person after sharing this story. When should you – and should you not – give to those less fortunate?

But for most of us, the problem is not curtailing our boundless generosity from the many worthy causes we can't afford to support. For most of us, it's generating the empathy for those worthy causes, to begin with, seeing how truly blessed we are relative to the rest of the world, and coming to the realization (like Bryan did) that we can probably have that shiny bauble some other day and that for now, it just doesn't seem that important.

So, once you've shared this story with your child, have a conversation about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. Do you think it was a good idea for Bryan to give that 800 Bolivars to the boy on the street? Why or why not?

  2. The median household income worldwide is about $10,000 (U.S. dollars) a year. That means about half of all families in the world live on more than that and half live on less than that. How much money does your family live on per year?

  3. How much of your allowance or income do you think is appropriate to give to charities?

  4. What charities do you support?

  5. What should you do if a stranger approaches you on the street and asks you for money? What kind of things should you consider when deciding what to do?

  6. What are some reasons why you should not give money to someone who appears to need it more than you?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about what to do if you want to be charitable, but you don't have much money yourself.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith