Among the most valuable lessons parents can teach their children are to be good stewards of their money and to save for the future. Another is the importance of helping the needy.

DALLAS — Among the most valuable lessons parents can teach their children are to be good stewards of their money and to save for the future. Another is the importance of helping the needy.

"They're the future of the community, and a strong philanthropic, volunteer social sector is extremely important to the overall health of our community," said Gary Godsey, president and chief executive of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

The tragedy in Japan presents a great opportunity to help — and to teach your children your values.

"It's a good time to just call kids' attention to the fact that there are people all around the world who have needs and even on your own as a kid you might be able to come up with a way to help them (like donating part of their allowance)," Godsey said.

"Those are good teaching moments to talk to your kids about what you as a family or an individual might want to do to help in those cases."

Here are the best ways to teach your kids about giving to charity:

START THEM EARLY: "My advice to families is that they start really young but start really simple," said Debbie Cox, managing director and wealth adviser at JPMorgan Private Bank in Dallas.

Cox told the story of a local family that goes to their child's school every year and asks what the school needs "to make it a better place."

"They take the child with them and talk about what might be helpful for the school to have," Cox said. "They go out and get that accomplished and have the child present it to the school."

The bank runs a program called "NextGen Leadership" aimed at helping clients' children move into their future roles as managers of their family's wealth and business.

Portions of the program are focused on philanthropy and ways to approach it.

Last year, financial adviser William Taylor and his wife, Cally, started a family tradition by taking their sons, 5-year-old Whit and 3-year-old Henry, to meet the holiday wishes of children in the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.

Recipients' wish lists are placed on trees at area malls. Shoppers choose lists and buy the requested gifts, which the Salvation Army distributes to families throughout several North Texas counties.

The Taylors picked two boys, also ages 5 and 3, and bought them clothes, shoes and educational toys.

"It will be an annual thing for us," said Taylor, managing partner at Cypress Wealth Management in Dallas. "We took the boys there after church and told them that we were going to find a boy their age and that the children are needy and they don't have toys and we're going to get them what they need."

And for Whit's 6th birthday party in May, the Taylors will ask the kids attending to bring an item that will be donated to children staying at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing for families of kids receiving medical treatment.

Taylor, who sits on the board of Easter Seals, said his kids are fortunate, but "there are kids out there who don't have anything."

TEACH BY EXAMPLE: Walk the talk about meeting the needs of those less fortunate.

"The thing that I've seen that's most effective is the parents doing something and taking the kids with them," said Bill Carter, president of Carter Financial Management in Dallas.

"It sets an example. They see them taking their time, they see them working hard, they see them making an effort. That action communicates far stronger than just sitting down and saying you need to think about others."

It's important that parents teach children that giving isn't just a one-time thing, said Colleen O'Donnell, a Dallas certified financial planner and co-author of "Generous Kids: Helping Your Child Experience the Joy of Giving."

"What's important is that we help create that habit, that it truly is a habit that we can instill in our children just like we teach them to brush their teeth," she said.

PICK THE RIGHT CAUSE: Learn what's important to your kids and what causes they're interested in, say experts.

"If something doesn't touch their heart, it doesn't create that habit," O'Donnell said.

For example, if your children love animals, they may want to donate to the Humane Society.

NOT JUST MONEY: Show that you don't have to give money to help the needy. If your family can't afford to give financially, there are other ways to donate.

"The term philanthropy is high-falutin', and everybody is a philanthropist if they want to be," Cox said. "It doesn't matter if it's a couple of books or hours of your time. It's just that you give what you can and do it regularly."

That's the lesson the Taylors want to teach their kids.

"I want them to grow up thinking that's just what you do, that you're not somebody special just because you're giving something, that it should be a normal part of what you should do," Taylor said.