I have seen a number of parents asking / allowing their children to give money to homeless people, street performers and charity collections.

  • What is the purpose of doing so? They parents surely could have done that themselves. I have this vague feeling that it has something to do with teaching children to be sympathetic, but not entirely sure.

Part of it is certainly teaching children to be charitable and to have empathy for others. Many people consider that important, and teach their children by setting a good example and getting them in the habit of giving charitably, whether it's through donation jars, "save spend give" allowances, or this kind of thing. And giving directly to someone, as opposed to putting coins in a jar at the store or something similarly distant, can be quite helpful. From a Parenting article about charitable giving, for example:

[I]t gives kids a powerful boost in self-esteem to realize they can make a difference in someone's life


"It's hard for kids to grasp that the money is going to, say, buy bread, which in turn will help feed ten homeless people," says Spaide [a founder of a children's charitable organization]. "Many children can't take the process that many steps forward in their minds."

Giving money directly to someone who needs it makes that much more concrete, and helps them see the benefit at a level they can understand.

Separate from the charitable side of things, though, some of it also is that children like to have something "to do", and giving them that role (of actually handing the money to the performer) is nice for the children. They get to feel a sense of involvement. This is no different than when we go to Costco and I hand my son the receipt at the end, to show the checker at the exit, for example.


People who advocate for charity beginning at home will start providing opportunities at an early age for children to be actively and directly involved in charity. For a while, my own son carried a "homeless bag" with him when we were out and about, to pass on to a needy person. It contained two bottles of water, personal hygiene products, and some snacks. He stopped the practice when the poor man he gave one to was immediately arrested for begging.

Logan Gulef, Master Chef Junior Season 2 winner, has a wonderful anecdote to illustrate how important teaching charity at a young age is. (Sadly, I don't have a link.) His family regularly helps out cooking at a homeless shelter. Sometime between the age of 9 and 11, he was helping at the shelter and having a bad day. At the end of the day, the shelter was technically closed and they were mostly out of food, but one last man came through. Young Logan, not feeling very charitable, rustled up something from the left over food that he describes as "not even as good as a school lunch". The gratitude that the man had for that small meal made a lasting impression on young Logan.

  • I think the gist of this answer is good, but the bits of the answer early on that mention the political angle are unnecessary and detract from the answer. Leaving off that first paragraph would make it much better; it's irrelevant and sets up a false dichotomy that's itself irrelevant anyway. – Joe Jul 2 '18 at 3:23
  • The OP's question is about motivation. The moral angle, which ties to the political angle, is IMHO crucial to understanding. Most people and families fall somewhere between the extremes, but in my experience the dichotomy is real, and growing wider. – pojo-guy Jul 2 '18 at 3:30
  • Please post about politics on Politics.SE. The material is unhelpful and detracts significantly from the answer (which contains good anecdotes.) Also, it is not a dichotomy. I believe in both personal and societal empathy for the poor; it's not either/or. – anongoodnurse Jul 2 '18 at 4:56

I have this vague feeling that it has something to do with teaching children to be sympathetic

I don't think so. I think the kids feel that all by themselves (see point 1 below). If anything, I think it's about getting a warm mushy feeling because you're making your child happy.

The parents surely could have done that themselves

Yes, but I think it's easier and more rewarding to let the kids do it. See point 2 below.

I'm in two minds about this, which don't disagree with each other, but I'm not sure which part is the more important one:

  1. When kids see a homeless person for the first time, they notice something is off, and they ask why they just sit around, or look so scraggy, etc. When you tell them, they feel sorry for them (it's possible this isn't universal, but I do tend to believe that kids are generally good-hearted unless you teach them not to be). So they want to help, and giving them some money to carry over to the homeless person makes them feel like they do so.

  2. Adults may have some inhibitions in actually giving money to homeless people, because they have a much wider perspective than kids. They know this won't solve the homeless person's problems, or at most only solve the most urgent ones for a single day. Handing over money may even make it worse, because you might be enabling a pattern of alcohol abuse etc. On the other hand, it's hard to do anything that would actually help. So giving money might seem like a kind of cop-out, a way to ignore the larger problem and still not feel like a bad person. So parents may actually be grateful for having kids run over with the money, which enables them to feel positive about it, instead of having to hand it over themselves and feel ambivalent about it.

Obviously, this reasoning only works for homeless people, not for street performers.


What is the purpose of doing so? They parents surely could have done that themselves.

Well yes we could also clean their rooms, wash up after the dinner we cooked, cook every meal.

But one day they have to start doing stuff, it is a confidence issue going up to unknown people and interacting with them, talking to shop staff, giving money to street performers.

For me it had nothing to do with teaching morals or sympathy just life experiences children need to do for themselves.

This is as the parent to an 11 and 7 year old.

  • you will need to elaborate a bit. – Yu Zhang Jul 3 '18 at 11:46
  • I can honestly think of no way to elaborate, children need to learn to do stuff themself, the only way to learn is to do. – WendyG Jul 3 '18 at 11:52

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