Teaching Kids How to Give Back after a Disaster Strikes

These days, it’s impossible not to know about the disasters that strike our communities, our nation, and our world. For children, both young and young adult, disaster recovery can become a very important topic. How do I cope with knowing these people are suffering? What does that suffering look like? How can I help, and what would I do if something happened to someone I care about? 

One answer in teaching our kids about kindness and giving back, with the understanding that the people they’re helping are really hurting and need more than just money and supplies. The youngest children probably don’t quite grasp what a “disaster” is, but they can probably infer that it’s not good. A teenager, on the other hand, knows both the word and its meaning, but not necessarily how to make an impact part themselves.

How can you teach kids of different ages about the importance of giving back when disaster strikes? There are any number of ways, but we think the following three are vital:

  1. For young children: teaching empathy
  2. For elementary and middle school kids: learning the value they can bring
  3. For high schoolers: budgeting time and money

Teaching Empathy

No matter where you live, it doesn’t take much to learn about a recent disaster, and your kids will no doubt know about them too. And since young kids are still in the process of building their worldview, it’s vital that they learn about what it means to be empathetic, to feel that they can do something positive for people who aren’t themselves.

It needn’t take much, either. Start small. If your child has a favorite toy or stuffed animal, especially one that comforts them when they’re frightened, encourage them to share it with one of their friends if they’re scared about what’s going on, or if someone they know is affected. Take some time and talk to your child about how showing that kindness made them feel and why that feeling is important. See if they’ve begun to understand what it means to provide that kind of care, and encourage them to find other ways to do so.

If you’re looking for a more substantive lesson, consider having your child set aside a separate piggy bank for donating toys, books, or other fun things in their life. Over a few months, see how much your child can collect in this “Giving Piggy.” Have them personally pick out something to buy with the money, then take them to a donation drop off site. Have the worker there explain the cause to them, or if it’s a simple drop box, do it yourself. Go into who’s receiving the item and the kind of positive impact getting it will create. If possible, try to make this a regular, recurring event as relief and recovery continue, and be sure to reinforce how much this act of kindness will mean to whomever receives it.

The Value They Can bring

Elementary and middle school kids are at a place where they’re starting to understand the real value of money. It might not be on a truly macro scale, but a few hundred dollars has an actual weight to them; they know what it takes to buy groceries, how far those groceries go, and how often that kind of money needs to be spent. They might not have a good way to make that kind of cash yet, though, but they should start thinking about how they’re going to use what they do have. In times of crisis,it’s good to have a plan about how to support either themselves or others.

Start at home. If you give your kids an allowance for doing chores, watching their younger siblings, or other tasks that take some weight off your back, see if they’ll donate some of that money towards the recovery efforts. It doesn’t have to be their entire allowance of course,but try to encourage them to dedicated a week or two where they’re helping out someone other than themselves. Check in with them as relief efforts continue to see how they feel about their contribution. Explain how much what they’re doing means to you and what it will mean in the future of those affected.

You can also reach out to their school to see about before or after school volunteer opportunities. Ask your kids to talk to you about food drives and bake sales and other donation events coming up, and find out how they’re planning to participate. If they need a little more incentive, consider matching their donation, and spend time with them making or collecting their donation. Be sure to reinforce the cause their work is going toward.

Budgeting Time and Money for Disaster recovery

You know how crazy the life of a teenager can be. Even so, it’s important that you stress to your young adult the importance of budgeting the money they make and the time they have so they can still provide disaster recovery support for people facing what can seem to be an impossible situation.

Ask your kids to join a recovery-based volunteer opportunities, even if it’s just for one or two weekends a month. Talk with them about the experience and what it was like and if they met anyone at the event that made them feel like they were making a real difference.

You can also take some time to talk to your kid about the money they’re making at their job and how they plan on spending it. In the same vein as the “Giving Piggy,” chat about how your young adult can give a portion of their earnings to the cause. What do they value most, what part of of the relief efforts do they feel most important, where do they think they can make the most impact? Take them or have them visit the local recovery donation location and have them talk to the people there. 

If they find that helping those affected is really important to them, help your kid to find and join some larger initiative, again even if it only happens once or twice a month. Make some time to be with them at the event to show your support for their efforts, and don’t hesitate to talk to them about their contribution or any difficult feelings that arise because of a disaster.

The Bottom Line

Though young children think very differently about giving than their young adult counterparts, each of them can learn valuable lessons about giving that will extend into their adult lives. From a sense of empathy for those in need to a knowledge about how their money and time can be put to good use, knowing how they can best give to disaster recovery efforts will give them a strong step forward toward adulthood.