Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m wondering what age to expect my children to start being charitable. My kids are not yet in school, but I remember some activities in Sunday school and Scouts that had us collecting canned food, singing for the elderly and the like. How old does one have to be before understanding that everyone is capable of lightening someone else’s load or just brightening their day?

Looking Ahead

Don’t miss last week’s column Teaching baby to overcome separation anxiety — Good Parenting

Dear LA,

Now is the perfect time to start these lessons. From before they are born, children benefit from positive connections with other human beings. And as they are able, they can do things that help others, though taking the initiative for acts of kindness will become more possible by the age of 7. Until then, by your examples and direct guidance, they are learning that it is important to help others and how to be generous with their time and their things.

Young children are great mimics. This is how they learn language as well as the behaviors of charity. As you go through your pantry for the next food drive in your community, ask your little ones to help with the packing. If there’s a yard sale to benefit a non-profit that you support, have your children help to gather their no longer needed clothing, books and toys to pack up along with the other household items you are contributing.

Anne Arundel County has a Mom and Me program which brings sunshine to the elderly by arranging visits between very young children (with a parent) and elderly people who may not have family in the area and or who can’t easily get out.

While Sunday school and Scouts may yet be in the future, just like school, their readiness to participate in the activities will depend a lot on their past experiences.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]