The importance of Chilhood Philanthropy.

As we approach the centre column of November Christmas fever is flying around childhood like it’s going out of fashion. Every commercial is for the latest toy or gadget, or features a perfectly decorated tree in an amazing, spotless house. The supermarkets are full of deals and offers, the toys hops blast 3 for 2 offers at you, and school bags are full of hand drawn Christmas card order forms, and Christmas play scripts. The children become a little more excited every day. I have already been presented with no fewer than thirty four Christmas wish lists by my children. Every few hours brings a new edit.

Those of you who follow my articles here at MCXV will be aware that we follow the “Something to wear, something to read, something to play with, something they need” system of gifting. The children’s lists have evolved over the last three years to reflect this philosophy too, with the girls naming the scents and brands that they like for toiletries for example. To extend their thinking further than just the big-ticket, materialist items we ask them to write an additional list in the bottom corner of the list that they’ve created. In this list we ask them to think of three charity gifts that they would ask Santa to give living souls who are in need. They are aware that the Santa who visits our house will choose one of their three charity gifts and substitute it for one of the material possessions that they’re hankering after. In other words, my children are willing to give up something of theirs in order to help someone less fortunate.

This process always opens up an interesting conversation among them all as they sit at the table with their paper and colouring cases and they explore concepts of need, use, practicality and also priority. Listening to the children trying to puzzle out whether 5 chickens to an African village, a £15 injection into the fledgling business of an entrepreneur in Malawi, or an inflatable pillow and sanitary package to a homeless person in the UK is more important. Their logical processes are fascinating, but we don’t do this as an opportunity of professional development for me as a psychologist. We ask them to put thought into the needs of a stranger who has a lot less than they do for their own good too.

But what exactly are these important social and cultural tools ? Haven’t I just used two words to describe the same thing? Common sense interpretations of these words perceives charity as the small actions of individual agents either alone or as part of a group to contribute to easing the suffering of those in need whereas the common perception of philanthropy as a larger scale effort, usually by orgnisations or institutions. On this occasion common sense is a little off the mark.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word philanthropy as


The desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.



Derived from the Greek words “Philos” meaning loving and “athropos” meaning mankind. (Source Oxford dictionary)

The term is commonly transposed with the word charity which the Oxford dictionary defines as


The voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.




Help or money given to those in need” or “Kindness and tolerance in judging others.


(Source Oxford dictionary).

The key difference is that charity focuses on helping someone in need where as philanthropy focuses on helping whole groups of people, be they a community, or a cause. It’s that much bigger than charity because if often involves the spreading of a message. To outline a simple example, Charity is picking someone up when they trip on a loose flagstone, Philanthropy is starting a campaign to have the loose flagstones in your high street shopping parade fixed because people keep tripping on them. Charity is donating to your local food bank, Philanthropy is volunteering in the food bank and fall enlisting your friends if you can. Neither of these things are more important than the other. Without the donation there’s no food bank, without the trip on the person who picks the fallen up there’s no one to draw attention to the loose flagstones. Both Charity and Philanthropy are links in an important chain.

In a 2013 study conducted for Charities Aid Foundation it was established that charitable giving in people aged 30 and under has reduced by up to half, and that by far the most generous age group was the over sixties (Smith, 2012). A worrying downturn in giving saw a drop of five percent in the number of households in the UK giving to charity between 1978 and 2010. (CAF. 2013). Respondents to the Mind the gap survey who were over 60 years old were the only age groups to show a marked increase in charitable giving, and they were responsible for the amount per donor trebling between 1978 & 2010 (Smith, 2012). Charitable giving in the under 30’s age groups remained consistent, but low throughout the thirty years of interest. Those aged thirty to fifty nine showed a marked decrease in charitable giving during the same period. Crucially this age group is where the majority of parents of young children are found. This is reflected in the answers that young people gave the CAF (2013) in which seventy eight percent of children felt that charity is very important, but forty nine percent of children reported that this message was being transmitted from School’s rather than the home environment (CAF. 2013). Communication within children’s home environment has the biggest shaping impact on a child’s feelings and belief systems (Warner, 2017). Sixty five percent of children expressed a desire for a more charitable influence from the home environment (CAF. 2013). Interestingly, less than half of the children felt that financial contributions from their household to charity should come from themselves. Other ways in which children suggested to the CAF. 2013 that they could support charitable giving included the donation of their property, or the donation of their time to help out as a representative of the charity, to help others as a supporter, or to fund raise. They also identified participation through watching fundraising (Children in need, Comic relief & Sport relief) . Despite the positive perceptions of charity as good and necessary, there was an element of the ‘charity begins at home’ mentality apparent in even the youngest groups with young people ranking Children’s charities as the most important, Medical as the second most important and Animals as the third. These three Charities combined gained a 62% share of the participants support, while Foreign Aid, Disability and Homelessness gained just 5% each (CAF. 2013).

So while your first response may have been to ask “What?! Why would any parent be so mean to their child?! Christmas is for presents!” the facts and figures outlined above indicate that children are much more receptive to philanthropy than adults may realise. If you have experience with pre-pubescent children then cast your mind back and you will undoubtedly be able to recall witnessing empathy in action between small children. Even very small children are able to recognise the emotional and physical suffering of others and respond to it with appropriate care and compassion. This extends into puberty, however anecdotally speaking I have noted that many of us stop observing our children as closely but the time they reach adolescence so that they feel able to explore the social environment and make decisions independently without feeling smothered. Altruism (kindness for the sake of kindness) is a word which ties together many traits of kindness, compassion, empathy and selfless care. It’s been a subject of fierce debate, and somewhat of a challenge to Psychologists, Sociologists, Anthropologists, and Philosophers alike. Altruism is not a human-specific condition, and some species actually demonstrate eusociality, sometimes known as pathological altruism (O’Leary, 2015) which is a form of codependency in which creatures are are willing to shorten their own mortality in the name of altruism. Recent research describes the facets of altruism as a series of interconnected emotional processes (O’Leary, 2015) because of the areas of the brain which are stimulated by the associated stimuli and response mechanisms (Gilbert, 2015). Using compassion as an example, this selfless emotional response is often described as having arisen from the evolutionary advantage of caring for others, especially offspring, kin and in-group allies (Gilbert, 2015).

Children who are sociometrically popular (i.e well liked by peers) have strong prosocial skills and form deeper and more satisfying friendships. They tend to be helpful and emotionally well-adjusted (Krueger, 2001). Not only this, but research has consistently found that altruistic behaviour is bidirectional, increasing subjective well-being (Weinstein, 2010). In the 2012 ‘Kindness counts’ study it was established that Children and adolescents who do good for others exhibit improved well-being and popularity amongst others. Furthermore exhibit more inclusive behaviors and less externalizing behaviors (i.e., less bullying) as teens. The mental health of the children concerned was enhanced too. The studies were carried out amongst school populations and the authors suggested that their findings improved classroom behaviour and experience to such an extent that regular scheduling of philanthropist practices during class time would enhance the classroom for all involved. (Nelson, 2012).

Learning to be givers shapes children’s values and provides opportunities to develop kindness, a virtue that improves lives and reduces violence and bullying.” (Mitchell, 2015)

Theoretically informed research shows us the importance of teaching our children to be altruistic and philanthropic rather than shaping them to be passive receivers of kindness
(Mitchell, 2015). According to Ellen Sabin, author of Once children are exposed to helping other people, it starts to become a habit. Ellen says

kids should grow up believing that helping others is a basic thing everyone does, like brushing your teeth or saying “please.” But as with 
good manners, the only way your child will learn to give and care and share is if you teach him. The charity ball is in your court. And that’s not an entirely natural lesson for today’s parents.

(Sabin & Berman Cited in Glembock 2017)

To instil kindness into your child takes more than talking about the good things that can be done. Strong parenting in order to help your child fulfil his potential requires you roll your sleeves up and lead by example. Marilyn Price-Mitchell suggests a 4 step strategy to nurturing philanthropy and altruism in adolescent children.

1. Understand the Importance of Kindness. It’s always easier to engage with a task if you understand the importance of that task.

2. Engage with authentic kindness. Just like we have here on MCXV, It’s important to motivate the flow of kindness to keep on coming. A project, challenge or gauntlet is the perfect motivational children to inspire philanthropy in children.

3. Share & Support. Communication is at the heart of good parenting. Allowing your child to share while you’re present, engaging, and demonstrating authentic interest allows your child to work through concerns, express pride in achievement, and explore concepts in order to filter useful information from the extraneous day to day social noise and synthesise the useful and purposeful experiences of philanthropic thinking with the opinions and experiences with existing knowledge.

4. Practice. By engaging in charitable behaviour frequently it will eventually become an effortless, natural task in which your children thrive while those in need benefit from purposeful life lessons that will help your children be happier, smarter and more successful. (Price-Mitchell, 2015)

I instil the values of common good in all of my children every day. But for the reasons outlined in this article I encourage Altruism, because children need to learn gratitude. In order to value and show appreciation for what they have they need an understanding of how fortunate they are. But they also need to learn humility, the good grace not to be preoccupied by material values, and the conscious awareness of how bragging may hurt others, carefully balanced by a celebration and appreciation for all that they do have. But most importantly I encourage free and creative philanthropy because the it makes the world a nicer place.

Further reading :

Berman, M. (2016) The global culture of giving: four key trends.

Charities Aid Foundation (2013) Growing up giving ; Insights into how young people feel about charity

Gilbert, P. (2015) The Evolution and Social Dynamics of Compassion

Glembrook, V. (2017)

Goetz, J., Keltner, D., and Simon-Thomas, E. (2011) Compassion: An Evolutionary Analysis and Empirical Review

Krueger, R., Hicks, B., McGue, M. (2001) Altruism and Antisocial Behavior: Independent Tendencies, Unique Personality Correlates, Distinct Etiologies

Marshall, M. (2010) Sparks Fly Over the Origin of Altruism. 

Nelson, S., Oberle, E., Schonert, R, Lyubomirsky, S, (2010) Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being.

O’Leary, D. (2015) An Evolutionary Challenge: Explaining Away Compassion, Philanthropy, and Self-Sacrifice.

Price-Mitchell, M., (2015) Kindness : How You Can Teach Children to Care for Others

Smith, S. (2012) Mind the Gap; The growing generational divide incharitable giving: a research paper.

Weinstein, N., Ryan, R., (2010)

Dorne Warner

I'm a freelancer with a diverse range of professional experience and a passionate interest in the human experience. I've spent 20 years working across a range of communicative platforms and online communities. My absolute favourite was 7 years in a voluntary capacity with iVillage UK. In this role, I was able to break the constraints of contracted work and discovered a passion for connecting with service users in order to feedback to HQ. This role generated a depth of understanding of the client experience from which the management was able to improve their service. I refer to this as my favourite because although voluntary iVillage UK helped me to find my speciality and develop my professional skill set. I currently manage an osteopathic practice. By implementing the deeper level of client understanding I have successfully enhanced the treatment experience, dispelled patient anxiety, and shortened prescription lengths. This enhanced service has improved client return rates and word of mouth recommendations. I've also successfully enhanced staff experience. Happy staff are integral to achieving happy clients. My strengths include safeguarding and risk assessment. At a personal level, I am highly motivated and self-critical. I strive to improve myself in order to deliver better results for my employers. My colleagues describe me as intuitive, supportive, and 'useful to have around'. I thrive in positions in which I can support others. I also thrive while self-improving. I remain a student with the open university, with whom I studied for my BSc (Hons) Psychology & am reading an MSc path with. I thrive in support roles. I am freelancing and available for ghostwriting, project management, short-format feature articles and charity work.