Earlier this spring, we sat down with Dr. Jim Moline, a licensed psychologist and the coauthor (with Thrivent CEO Brad Hewitt) of the book Your New Money Mindset, to discuss the importance of teaching children generosity from an early age.
Thrivent Financial: Why is teaching children generosity from an early age so critical?
Jim Moline: The writer of Proverbs 22 says this: "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." Our Christian heritage and modern-day research tell us that early intervention with kids makes a lifelong difference in terms of generous behavior.
One such study1 of children ages 3 to 6 demonstrated that when kids are asked to "be a helper" (noun) versus "to help" (verb), they act in generous ways four times as often! Being versus doing makes a difference, even in preschoolers.
Thrivent: Does volunteering help children grow in ways you think are important for their overall mental health?
JM: Yes. An excellent research summary from the University of Texas at Austin2 shows that children who volunteer have improved lifestyle choices, development, life skills acquisition and community participation. They also develop a lifelong service ethic. Volunteering early on truly makes a difference across a lifetime!
Thrivent: As a dad of two daughters, how have you found volunteering to make a difference? How did you encourage your daughters, Mira and Asha, to volunteer?
JM: I believe that teaching a child to start giving back from an early age helps build a spirit of generosity into his or her character. I can be a stingy person, but when I volunteer with my girls, we all feel a sense of joy and gratitude. For example, I joined Mobile Action Ministries, which delivers meals to the homeless via a food truck. I invited Asha and Mira along early on – they helped in the food truck on Saturdays starting when they were 7 and 11 years old. Bringing my girls along to serve on a food truck or joining with them on a Habitat for Humanity build, helps us remember we are each part of God's larger creation and called to serve humankind.
Thrivent: How do you recommend getting started?
JM: Pick something that excites you. If your kids see you get out of bed on a Saturday morning to help others, they'll follow your lead. I put myself through school doing construction and I'm pretty good at it. So when I got involved with Habitat for Humanity, the kids came along.
Generosity isn't just about money. It's about time and talent. If you live life with open hands, you'll be rich in the ways that matter most.
Thrivent: If you could say one thing to parents of young children about generosity, what would it be?
JM: Start early! We know from the research that if you teach generosity when children are young, it lasts across their lifetime. If you don't, it's harder for them to learn it later in life. Young kids love to spend time with their parents more than anything else. Sharing your passion for service early in their development will set them on the course that the writer of Proverbs described. If you do that, they will live a generous life that increases in scope as the years go by.
Ready to take the next steps with your family? Discuss how your family can serve together at least one time this summer – and then put it on the calendar. Or learn about how you can give back to your local community through the Thrivent Action Team program.