Materialism is one of the devil’s most powerful tools against God’s people. Even Christians tend to objectively value possessions over generosity and spirituality. Training to combat these tendencies must begin in childhood. Cognitive science teaches us that persistent effort and reinforcement is essential in making desired habits automatic. Habits of generosity and stewardship are no exception.
A research finding, published by the journal Neuron, March 8, 2012, concludes that children’s ability to consider the preferences of others is linked with maturation of the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain governs self-control, higher cognitive function, and moral reasoning.
Ellen G. White’s Counsels on Stewardship coroborates this finding. Ellen White emphasized training children in habits of self-control and self-denial. She wrote that parents should emphasize habits of obedience to God, concern for the spiritual and physical well-being of others, simple living, and avoidance of selfish and impulsive purchases. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; … and thy neighbor as thyself.”
The teaching of self-control early in life will lead to a contented, joyful, mature adulthood. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Good lifetime stewardship begins with habits of thinking developed early in life. Proper training and environment reinforce biology and neurology in enabling the child to mature as a godly and morally responsible adult.
As the Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” This warning should motivate us to teach our children stewardship of finances and other resources.
We suggest some practical pointers to foster the spirit of giving:
START NURTURING YOUNG STEWARDS
Some parents believe that understanding stewardship comes naturally. This is not true in most cases. Social interaction may teach children to share and acknowledge one another’s needs; however, it does not guarantee that children will give unselfishly and even sacrificially in later life. The fostering of unselfishness must be intentional.
Singapore is a wealthy country with few natural resources. Almost everything is imported, even drinking water. Thus, teaching children to wisely manage resources in one of the most expensive places in the world is essential. Children go to summer camps to learn how to save and spend wisely. This could be one of the reasons why Singaporeans tend to be very disciplined financially.
We can begin by teaching children wise habits of health and nutrition. Stewardship of time can begin with limiting screen time. Don’t give them everything they want when they want it; waiting, while unpleasant, leads to the development of patience and impulse control. In the end, children will feel self-respect for controlling wants and impulses. Give them opportunities to be productive by doing simple household chores and helping in the community.
BE TRANSPARENT IN OUR FINANCIAL POSITION
Many adults believe allowing children to become aware of our financial difficulties would be too stressful for them. In fact, however, allowing children to understand the financial situation in an age-appropriate way can be helpful. Children will learn to adjust to any financial situation.
As kids get older, discuss the cost of living and financial obligations with them. Enlist their help in addressing financial difficulties. In our house we remind our children to turn off the lights, turn down the air conditioning, or not to waste water. We also teach our children to wait for things they want. Waiting leads to clear reasoning about their desires. We do not want to make life less enjoyable for our teens; we want them to understand that those things cost money.
Parents should also talk with teens about how they can become financially independent in their own home. This will help them to develop realistic expectations and wise spending habits as they enter adulthood.
BE GENEROUS PARENTS AND ADULTS
Children notice the inconsistency between our belief and practice. If we are going to preach generosity, we must practice it. Being generous as a family has been one of the most rewarding things we’ve done to teach our young children stewardship. Children saw us sharing our homegrown vegetables. We got them to deliver freshly prepared food to neighbors. When they returned, their faces were painted with big smiles, coupled with excitement as they were holding some ice-cream or cookies given by the neighbors. They immediately understood that kindness is repaid with kindness. Younger children should be given an allowance so they can exercise stewardship and generosity by returning tithe and offerings to God.
TEACH THE PRINCIPLE OF EARNING, SAVING, AND GIVING
Saving and giving are linked. We must have something at hand to give generously and willingly. Children must learn how to save and share when needs arise. As parents, we must provide for our children's needs: food, clothing, school supplies, or sports equipment. Even these needs can turn into wants when older children desire certain brands.
Children must be taught to take good care of their things. Help them to understand that parents sacrifice to provide for them and that they should value items accordingly. Parents might also consider giving them some tasks to do to earn financial rewards for their dream item. In this way, children will value what they have and learn to take pride in ownership. Children must realize that the financial and material blessings are not just for ourselves. Blessings come with responsibility and the ability to give and share. Make earning, saving, and giving the culture of your home.
AWAKEN THE SENSE OF HUMILITY, GRATITUDE, AND APPRECIATION
The spirit of giving comes with a sense of gratitude and thankfulness. Burkett advises that adults must help children to value every gift given—whether it’s family relationships, friendship, nature, time, or resources—as manifestations of God’s abundant love, grace, and mercy. This way we will inculcate humility and gratitude. Help children to understand that giving and sharing is our tangible expression of love and adoration to God.
Ellen White has warned parents not to teach children to expect gifts on holiday seasons and their birthdays. This practice has actually taught children to develop selfish habits and developed a tendency to think that they have the right to demand things as their due. Instead of facilitating the greedy and selfish habits of the world, we must help children to “increase the knowledge of God and to waken thankfulness of heart for His mercy and love in preserving their lives for another year.”
To sum up, Ellen G. White is very clear and purposeful in her statement that children are to be taught and guided to be obedient to God’s command to become good stewards. Stewardship is a way of life that does not come naturally. It must be taught. Children must not only hear our words, they must see our example as we show generosity in tithes, offerings, and service to the spiritual and physical needs of our communities and the world.
Ellen White has summed up the essence of stewardship: “Like the wise men of old you may offer to God your best gifts, and show by your offerings to Him that you appreciate His Gift to a sinful world. Set your children’s thoughts running in a new, unselfish channel, by inciting them to present offerings to God for the gift of His only-begotten Son.” In all teaching, help our children to realize that a spirit of giving is generated by our appreciation of God’s best gift to our sinful world—Jesus Christ!
¹ Science Daily, “Self-centered kids? Blame their immature brains,” March 7, 2012; retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/ releases/2012/03/120307132206.htm.
² Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, D.C..: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 295.
³ C. J. Griffin, Stewardship Sermons (Cavite: Philippines Publishing House, 2002).
⁴ Bible texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
⁵ L. Burkett and K. C. Bowler, Money Matters for Kids, (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000).
⁶ White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 296.
⁷ Ibid., p. 297.