I have had conflict most of my life between what I think I want and what I really need.
My suspicion is there are many people that share this conflict with me.
This conflict also appears in children as well.
We don’t have to teach children to struggle with determining between wants and needs. It’s a natural response to life. And, if they need any help doing so — they can easily learn the struggle from us.
As parents we are the primary shapers of our children’s attitudes towards the world, including things such as money, personal possessions and desires, but also how they treat other people. Our children will either have a bent towards being “givers” or “takers” in society. Of course, every child is their own unique person, and that will be greatly influenced by the life they live in our home.
How do we teach children generosity?
How do we help our children (and ultimately ourselves) be people who genuinely enjoy living sacrificial lives — considering the interest of others — being givers rather than takers as the Bible commands us to do?
Here are 10 ideas, which we tried to practice in our own home. It has been amazing to watch how our boys, now adults living independently on their own, have developed generous hearts towards others. They are far more generous towards others than I was at their age.
And, let me be clear. The fact that they turned out this way is all grace. God has blessed us greatly, but, we have been intentional to live out Biblical principles — and we have learned they work when applied “generously”.
Here are 10 ideas for teaching children generosity:
Have fun and be generous parents.
The story is told of Jesus and the disciples attending a wedding. The party had been going for a while when something tragic happened. They ran out of wine. That was a serious problem to the host of the party. It was a huge cultural embarrassment to run out of food or wine. Jesus took some big barrels of water and turned them into the best wine the people had that night. The people were overwhelmed.
The Bible says that was the very first miracle Jesus ever did. As culturally important as weddings were in those days, it still sounds like God met a want, rather than a need.
It is very clear that God is not trying to keep us from having what we want or from having fun in life. God is not opposed to blessing us with things we want, but may not even need. We should not be afraid to do the same with our children. If we can afford to, and if our children are living within the boundaries set for our home, we should not be afraid to give them gifts they simply want, but may not even need. (I thought I would start with an easy one first.)
Help children understand the difference between a need and a want.
This is huge. It is understandable why it is difficult to raise children who understand the difference between a need and a want when we as parents struggle with the same issues. This will take a lifetime of teaching, but the earlier we start the better.
As much as God wants to bless us with wants, if we study the Bible, God seems far more interested in helping fulfill our needs than He does in giving us everything we want. In fact, God never promises to provide our want list, yet He does promise to meet all our needs. (Philippians 4:19) Granted there are some that take verses like this out of context and teach that God gives us everything we ask for, but that doesn’t line up with the rest of Scripture.
The problem from a Biblical perspective is that we have a messed up system of determining need verses want. That thing inside us that chooses good over evil, better or best, need verses wants; is broken.
When we apply Biblical understanding, most actual needs go beyond just enjoyment for today or even just for me. For something to fall into the category of need it should provide some lasting value to society or at least to my own character. Needs, beyond basics such as food and water, become things like righteousness — and love, and joy, and peace, and contentment.
We can even ask ourselves, does this “thing” benefit someone more than just me? Does it add value to someone’s life or to my own character? A true need, in this context, almost becomes something that money cannot buy.
We should consistently invest Biblical principles into our children — helping them understand the things that matter to God. Helping children develop a hunger for things they need — as much as, or even more — than things they want.
Provide needs. Bless with wants.
It is important that parents consider their system of meeting needs versus wants. Of course, that begins with a proper understanding ourselves of needs versus wants.
Consider this question: Which gets more attention in your home?
Does having the latest technology take a bigger role than teaching children to be good citizens and to generously love others?
Does being the best on the traveling soccer or dance team have a higher priority than finding ways to serve others?
Either answer is your choice. You’re the parent, but if a goal is teaching children who in the future are generous adults you may have to consider some of the places you spend your energies and resources. When it comes to encouraging generosity, consideration should be given to use of what God has allowed us to have, such as time and money.
Our boys never did without basics needs. And, by needs here I’m even referring to housing, clothing, food, etc. They had plenty, but, there were probably things they wanted they didn’t have. In how they spent their time, we let them choose what they enjoyed doing, but we also limited the number of outside activities our boys could participate in at one time.
And, we looked for opportunities where we could give back to others. We prioritized our time. And, we prioritized our “stuff”. We didn’t try to keep up with everyone else in terms of the “toys” they had. Having to wait until a birthday or Christmas for something they really wanted wasn’t unusual to them.
Spend more time, energy and attention meeting needs than wants.
At Christmas time, birthdays, and other special occasions we ask children what they “want”. There is nothing wrong with that.
Most of the time we already know what they need. We don’t have to ask them if they need to be honest people. We don’t have to ask them if they need to have character, love others or be generous. We do not need to ask them if they need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We know they need those things.
We need to ask ourselves if we are spending as much time and energy helping them get what they need as we are trying to buy them what they want. Let’s be honest, providing for a want is more fun sometimes. But we must be willing to sacrifice even what makes us feel good as parents in order to do what is best for our children long-term. We need to give them what they need.
It’s much more fun to give them wants, but it is far more valuable to give them needs.
Model healthy personal choices between needs and wants.
I think we teach our children to value the need more than the want by first modeling it for them.
We cannot ask children to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. Children are smarter than that. Today’s generation is far more interested in truth and integrity than earlier generations. This generation despises hypocrisy.
If children see parents saying one thing and doing another, they will reject that as being truth. We need to model and teach our children the proper concepts concerning money. Ultimately teach them that we are to be responsible with what God has allowed us to have. (When we had to use our credit card for purchases, for example, we usually explained to them why and that we would be paying it off quickly.)
Children need to see their parents giving sacrificially of their time and resources. Volunteering at a soup kitchen may be a better activity for an upcoming special occasion than opening a bunch of gifts.
Help children make wise choices with their own money.
One of the primary reasons children should have access to their own money is so they can learn the value of it. Our children were always more careful spending “their” money than they are spending ours.
Talk with them about how they should spend their allowance, birthday, or even money they have earned on their own. Help them learn what the terms budget — and savings — and investment. And, tithe is still not a bad word either. Ultimately, they should give some to God, save some, and spend some for things they need or want (based on the system you have for meeting these in your home.)
We also freely discussed our own finances in front of our boys. We allowed them to know things like when things were tight financially and when we were giving to others.
Consider the “big picture” of your child’s life.
As a parent, we are a primary molder of our children. The choices they make in life. What they desire most will largely be impacted by us early in their life. Their desires in life will be greatly shaped by the life they live in our home. (That’s a scary thought — isn’t it?)
I heard a statistic once that children these days get 90% of everything they want in life. That doesn’t seem like the statistic for most of our adult want lists, does it? I can’t verify the statistic, but it sounds about right for most children I know — probably even for our own. The problem this creates is that somewhere children are going to face a stark reality in adulthood when we seldom have all that we “want”.
We have all heard stories of children of privilege who got everything they wanted in life, but who cannot seem to stay out of trouble as adults. They have no real sense of direction; no set of values to guide them, because they got everything they wanted in life, but nothing that they really needed!
We kept these principles in mind as we parented. We were raising them to be adults. That one thought changed our paradigm many times.
Keep children properly grounded in a material world.
Children need to know that the universe does not revolve around them. Our world as their parents may revolve around them, but the rest of the world thinks otherwise. Children need to have created times in their life where they have to wait for something they want. Teach and model for children a life that puts others needs and wants ahead of their own.
Don’t give children everything; even if you can afford it.
If children are encouraged by example to have a love of money — a love of stuff — chances are they will never have enough possessions in this world to be satisfied. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Plant within them a love of God, a love of people and a love of life and they will want to bless others — and the joy of their life will be much greater.
Regardless of how wealthy a family is children should not be so “privileged” that there are no longer any items on their “want” list. When this happens the child has a hard time developing a heart of giving, because they are often too consumed with acquiring more “stuff”.
We have to model simple living sometimes for our children. IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO TO YOUR CHILD! In fact, that may sometimes be the exact thing we need to say. Every trip to the mall should not produce a new toy! (Okay, I know number 9 hurts!)
Teach and model a love for God.
I saved the most important idea for last. Above all else, perhaps the greatest thing a parent can do to help children be generous people is to help them desire the things of God more than the things of this world. God is a generous God. The more we know and love Him, the more generous we become.
You don’t have to agree with all my ideas. You certainly don’t have to implement them. Again, you’re the parent. And, granted, parenting is hard. You can be the best parent, do everything the best you know how, and still every child responds in their own way. So, here’s a prayer your way. Be intentional. We need great parents. And, we need generous people.