As you guys know, I am an enthusiastic proponent of kids donating to charity and understanding that others may not be as fortunate as they are. Remember last year when my daughter did a SmileTrain fundraiser for her birthday? (Probably, because it was primarily the donations of my readers that allowed her to surpass her $250 goal of donating one cleft palate surgery, so thank you if you donated last year!) We had just seen a friend's baby on social media who had a cleft palate and was lucky enough to have parents who could afford the surgery. My daughter was so happy when she got to her goal of donating a cleft palate surgery, so that a child who couldn't otherwise afford it could now feel better and be able to smile confidently.
When kids' birthdays turn primarily into an occasion to receive new toys to clutter up the house, I think there is an opportunity lost. Research shows that giving to others makes people happier than just buying new stuff, and this isn't just true for adults. Children can be exquisitely sensitive to the issues that others face who are less fortunate. This is why it is so important to model charitable behavior for our children. If kids don't learn the importance of giving back when they are young, it sets them up to be self-absorbed adults later in life. So many of my clients struggle with feeling truly happy. Despite what many of us learn from the media, true happiness doesn't come from continuously accumulating more "stuff." This is an endless cycle that enables increasing self-focus and a "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. Focusing on charitable giving and doing early in life is one way that you can help your child be a happy and fulfilled person.
There is a site that I recently learned about that helps your child celebrate their birthday in a charitable and generous way. It is a site created by two Canadian moms, Debbie Zinman and Alison Smith, called ECHOAge.com. Here, you and your child can send out party invitations to guests that ask them to donate money in honor of their birthday. You can choose how guests' funds are divided between contributing to the child's group gift and to the charity, as shown below. Note: My husband gets a kick out of how many tabs I keep open at all times, so I left that in at the top of the screenshot for a special treat for you guys. ADHD or highly productive? You decide.
There are lots of great charities participating, encompassing health, education, children, camps, food for the hungry, animal welfare, and more, even our favorite, Smile Train! Using the birthday party platform, kids on ECHOAge.com have raised $10 million in 10 years. You can see some kids who have had a birthday charity fundraiser in the Heroes section of the site. What’s also great about ECHOage is that you don’t have to guess what someone wants or needs for their birthday and it saves you time. You don’t have to run around looking for that perfect gift and you often contribute to something really meaningful for the child as a result of a “group” purchase like a bike, an iPod, dance lessons or even a telescope. It really is a win, win, win for the child, charity and guests.
You know, now that I am clicking through this site, I remember that, 10 years ago, my husband and I did a charity registry for our wedding. I didn't recall that before right this second because I've had three kids in the intervening years and I no longer have the supple brain of a childless newlywed. And I have never wished that I had registered for, say, a salad spinner, and NOT donated the money. That's the thing about charity, you always feel positive about having donated, even years later.
Broach the idea of ECHOAge with your child and see what they think about a birthday party that also helps those in need! Discussing different charities and whom they help is an ideal opportunity to cultivate empathy and a perspective larger than "I want a new video game for my birthday." (And with this site, your child doesn't view charitable giving as zero sum, because they can also apply guests' donations to the video game.) Let me know if your kids decide to do it, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Loves Seeing How Charitable Kids Can Innately Be.
Learn about Dr. Rodman’s private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. Order her books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage, and How To Talk To Your Kids About Your Divorce, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.