"My child just asked me about poverty—what do I say?" Discerning how to explain poverty to a child can be tricky. We don't want to overwhelm our kids but we do want to develop their empathy. To help navigate the topic of poverty with children, we asked a clinical psychologist to share some tips.
14 Apr, 2020
Poverty is a complex topic to digest. Even as adults, grappling with the changing nature of poverty is a mammoth task—so approaching the topic with our children requires extra care and wisdom.
Parents, relatives and teachers play a key role in modelling a Bible-based response to poverty in the world. You can help children approach poverty and brokenness with love and empathy with these handy tips from clinical psychologist, Asher Morrison.
1. Have age-appropriate conversations:
When it comes to exposing children to people living in poverty, the most significant risk is that you may traumatise your child. The impact of issues like child labour, water scarcity, natural disasters and inequality for women can be difficult concepts to grasp for young children. The challenge is to share the stories and challenges of those in poverty without sharing potentially traumatic details.
While there is no minimum age for discussing poverty and charity, some topics can be distressing for a young child. For instance, sharing detailed information about human trafficking may create unnecessary anxiety or fear of being abducted or subjected to violence.
To avoid this, it's important to understand your child's current level of social and emotional development. This will guide you in deciding the amount of information to share with them. The level to which we share depends on the age of the child, and also their level of social and emotional development.
Tip: Get creative by using songs, stories of children or pictures. You can also use birthday parties as a way to demonstrate different cultures and worlds. You could even spark a conversation about poverty through their Christmas gift. Find out more about Gifts of Compassion here.
2. Be prepared for tricky questions:
Children love to ask questions and sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer. Children won't ask you about the state of the economy, regional policies or the human development index, but they'll probably ask you why some children don't have homes, food or money.
You don't have to have all the answers, but you need to be prepared for the conversation through prayer, research and discussion with family members or partners.
Tip: Read some children's books on poverty at story time, like Sister Lucy's Great Big Family by Susie Poole and Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Boston Weatherford.
3. It's okay if children get emotional:
One of the real benefits of exposing children to the lives of those in poverty is the opportunity to foster and develop empathy. Empathy is a key attribute to healthy relationships and is something that develops throughout childhood as children move from a self-focused (egocentric) worldview to a worldview that considers the needs of others.
When children are exposed to the needs of those in poverty, they begin to understand that their experience of the world is not the only one. This is a fantastic tool for promoting empathy development!
During the conversation, don't dismiss sad feelings about the situation. This can be an expression of empathy and it is perfectly okay for your child to feel sad or angry or any manner of "negative" emotions about the plight of others. However, it is helpful to then use these feelings as a springboard to find hope.
Tip: Rather than offering a quick fix, acknowledge how children are feeling and inspire your children to process their emotions with creative activities. For young children, try using pictures or colours to help children convey what they're feeling.
4. Empower them to take action:
Our children don't need to feel helpless as they learn about children who are living in poverty. Have some action ideas that you could suggest to help others who live in poverty, as your child will probably want to do something about the situation. Introducing them to charity organisations that help people living in poverty is a great way to encourage an interest in philanthropy.
Tip: Help your child get involved with child sponsorship by inviting them to write to your family's sponsored child or set aside their pocket money to send a special gift or contribute to a project!
Alternatively, start a new relationship with another sponsored child, like this beautiful friendship between Sienna and Praise. Make the connection personal by selecting a child with the same birthday or name as your child to strengthen their bond.
Remind your kids that they are making a difference in the lives of someone living in poverty. And above all, continue to listen to their questions as they develop their understanding of poverty and hope in Jesus.
Sponsor a child and continue your family's journey learning about poverty, injustice and global issues today.
Words by Shona Yang, Asher Morrison and Vivienne Hughes
Photos by Bayly Moore, Jonatan Ruiz and Ben Adams
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