It seems our children – from age 2 to 22 – need some guidance on giving. I consistently hear parents remark that they have really great kids, but they’re not very helpful.

Why would they be helpful when our actions tell them they have better things to do; that they should focus on achievement while we take care of the rest? By over-functioning we’ve invited them to under-function. We provided blinders that narrowed their focus and discouraged them from looking up and beyond themselves. I imagine the best of kids could easily trip over a neighbor on their way out to an SAT tutor.

It’s clear to me that contribution is the solution in this age of hurried adults, achievement-oriented kids, electronic connection, and social disconnection. It’s never too late to introduce age-appropriate opportunities for children to contribute to their families, neighborhoods, and communities.

When we say ‘Yes’ to the asking we make room for our children to say ‘Yes’ to the giving. So why then is it so difficult to ask? Sometimes it’s easier to give a child a fish and feed him for a day than to teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

We need to resist the temptation to do for our children what they can do for themselves. Tonight is the night to ask and never stop asking:  a 2-year-old to set napkins on the table, a 7-year-old to tell a story, a 12-year-old to water plants, a 17-year-old to check in with grandma, or a 23-year-old to provide dinner once a week.

There are so many reasons to ask more of our children, but these five keep me on track in my quest to raise kids to live on the give:
> Doing good feels good which inspires an escalating “Do Good/Feel Good Spiral.”
> Creating age-appropriate opportunities to contribute invites all, excludes none, and discourages adults from counting on one “Go-To Kid.”
> The more children do, the more self-sufficient they become by gaining skills, confidence, and perspective.
> Self-sufficient people have the “Stand-Up Power” and “Walk-Away Power” to avoid, and hopefully address, compromising relationships and situations.
> People with “Stand-Up Power” and “Walk-Away Power” make good family members, teammates, colleagues and citizens.

If we share family responsibilities and encourage involvement from an early age, young people will learn firsthand that it pays to deliver. They will see themselves as contributors and know their unique and indisputable places in our lives and world.