“The single best thing parents can do is to practice Christian generosity in the sight of their children. Children learn by example, and parents are their foremost teachers.”
Principles for Teaching Giving
The desire to give children practice at giving is commendable, and opportunities are abundant.
- Children of all ages can be involved in the family giving process. Do your children know to whom you give? If you involve them in the decision-making process, you can teach them both about giving and about the gospel.
- Children of all ages can give their time and energy in acts of service. Consider taking your kids with you to deliver a meal to a needy family, visit a nursing home, or rake leaves for an invalid. In this way, they can learn to give even before they have money of their own.
- When children are old enough to have money of their own (whether from allowance or employment), parents can train them to give regularly and generously to the church.
- Above and beyond church giving, it is good to give children chances to give voluntarily to projects that excite them. Parents should look for opportunities to expose them to foreign missionaries, local ministries and people in need, explaining that they are free to give where the Lord leads them. The opportunities for children to practice giving are abundant; you must determine which ones suit your children best.
Questions About Children and Giving
When the offering plate comes around at church, should I give my children pocket change to put in it?
Giving children spare change to put in the offering plate is certainly OK, but there may be other and perhaps better ways to teach them about giving to the Lord. For example, depending on their age, parents might want to pay their kids in return for small chores around the house, and then teach them to give an offering from their own income. Or again, parents might want to take them along to bring a meal to a needy family, so that they see more concretely where their offerings go. Giving children spare change for the offering plate is fine, but it is good to consider other teaching opportunities as well.
Should children receive an allowance?
Under the right circumstances, yes. A parents’ specific decision on this issue will depend largely on the child’s situation and degree of maturity. Some children are too young for an allowance – they are not ready to manage money of their own yet. Other children are too old for an allowance – they should be gainfully employed rather than being supplied by their parents. A good rule of thumb is: If a child is old enough to practice managing money of her own, but not yet old enough to hold down a regular job outside of the home, then an allowance may be a good idea. Allowances are simply tools for good parenting. Parents should use them to the degree that they help them understand how to share, save and spend); they should not feel enslaved by them. If giving an allowance helps you teach your children about who God is and how to handle his money, then you should feel free to use it. But if it doesn’t serve this end, then consider putting an end to it.
Should children be expected to work for their allowance money?
Generally speaking, yes. Here too, a lot depends on the ages and circumstances of the children. Obviously, with very young children, parents provide for them without expecting labor in return. But as children get older, we naturally (and rightly) expect increased responsibility from them. One manifestation of this responsibility is the institution of chores – jobs done to contribute to the common life of the family. When children are old enough to receive an allowance, they are probably old enough to do chores as well. And one good parenting tool can be to connect allowance with chores – wages with labor. It is good in general to teach children to associate money with labor, as this is a basic biblical principle. But parents need not do it in exactly this way. Allowances and chores are simply tools for good parenting. We should use them to the degree that they help us get biblical truths across to our kids; we should not feel enslaved by them. But having said so, expecting children to work for their allowance money can be one good way to accomplish this parental goal.
At what age should children start learning about generosity?
As early as they can understand. Of course, just when this time comes may not be entirely clear to parents. But the words of Moses from Deuteronomy to the people of Israel are relevant in this regard: “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” By the things parents say and do in the home, day in and day out, they teach their children how to live. Of course, different measures will be appropriate to different ages.
- Toddlers may watch you put money in the offering plate.
- School-age children may give out of their allowance.
- Adolescents may give out of their own babysitting income.
Tying It All Together: Giving and the Gospel
The single best thing parents can do is to practice Christian generosity in the sight of their children. Children learn by example, and parents are their foremost teachers Particularly if you have a tradition of family giving, you should take care to make the gospel of Jesus Christ the main thing, rather than the family legacy. Family legacy, while a good thing, cannot motivate true Christian generosity. Parents must teach their children to be committed first and foremost to Christ and his kingdom. Anything else, family included, must take second place.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” –Luke 14:26
With that warning, here again is a list of practices parents can use to teach their children well:
- Teach them to associate money with labor.
- Teach them to save.
- Give them opportunities to practice giving.
- Take them with you to serve the poor.
- Teach them some basic financial planning tools.
- Teach them by example how to live simply.
- Show them how family finances work.
- Teach them that many things are more important than money.
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.