How to Raise a Giving Child

The author named her daughter after her famously generous grandmother. But that was just a start.

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Author Harriette Cole with her daughter, Carrie Chinsee (Akilah Rhone)

(The Root) -- When my daughter was born, I named her for my maternal grandmother, Carrie. I learned years ago the power of a name and the strength of a family legacy. With the name Carrie came so much.

My grandmother lived to be 101, and during all of the years that I knew her -- up until I was 29, when she peacefully passed away -- she was a living, breathing example of kindness and generosity. A domestic worker until she was 93, my grandmother never had much, but what she did have she shared without a second thought. It could be her couch when family members came up from the "country" and needed a place to lay their head. It could be extending whatever was in the pot on the stove to whomever stopped by with an empty stomach. It included giving to the church through tithes and special offerings for those in need. It was always a treat for the dog and a dollar for the children when she came to visit us on Sunday afternoons. Little Grandma, as we affectionately called her, was a giver.

I loved my grandmother so much. She had a way of making everyone feel happy and at ease. Never mind, she was a feisty woman, but at her core she was a generous soul. This is what I hope to instill in my daughter, and hence, why I always knew that if I had a child that child's name would be Carrie.

Now, of course, there's more to rearing a generous child than naming her. A parent's job is to lead by example. In today's culture, where it seems that everything is about conspicuous consumption -- "Give me more, more, more" -- it can be challenging to open a child's eyes to the balance that a well-lived life requires, namely to notice that there are many who are in need at the very moment that you may be enjoying plenty.

My husband and I have consistently practiced giving. Through our work we receive tremendous bounty. And so, consistently, we pack up things -- clothing, accessories, home goods, stuff -- and give them to various charities. For years we have donated to the Salvation Army, but we also pay attention to the crises in our world. When tragedy strikes other communities and there is a need for a coat or canned goods or other items, we direct our resources there.

What's more, we teach Carrie the value of this action. As an only child, her reminder of this lesson came up when she was 7. Carrie had been asking me about whether she would ever have a sibling. I told her that she is the great blessing in our lives and that there would be no other. As sadness tinged her eyes, I told her that the good news is that she gets "everything" that belongs to us, because she doesn't have siblings with whom to share. That knowledge soothed her a bit.

And then it was time to pack up things to give away again. As I was sorting and readying bags and boxes, Carrie noticed and immediately asked me to stop. She said, "Mommy, you told me that everything of yours will be mine, so you can't give this away! It's mine!" she shrieked.

I paused for a moment, realizing the pickle in which I had put myself: Yes, I had indeed told her that all that belongs to my husband and me is hers. But the lesson was not supposed to promote hoarding or greed. I thought for a moment and then told her, "You are right. And as a family we constantly give to others who are in need. You are welcome to go through these items to see what we have selected to share with them. I would love for you to participate in this process."

That was enough to get her to open her mind and her heart to the practice of giving of what belongs to her. We don't limit our giving to the extra stuff we have in our home. We identify charities to which we send money, and we talk to her about their causes. We sometimes give our physical service to those charities because we know that money is not the only form of generosity that can benefit others.

Most important is that as a family we demonstrate to our daughter that the spirit of giving is the way to live your life. As was the life of her namesake, Carrie is being taught that the best way to live is to share the goodness of your life with others. What's gratifying is for us to see how naturally Carrie aligns with this thinking. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that she was born nine years ago during Thanksgiving week.