Any given day I find myself telling my children about my childhood and the things I didn’t have growing up. When I hear complains about the Internet being down, having too many toys to pick up or how little time they got to stay in the pool, I remind them how fortunate they are. It’s not that I like to throw a pity party, on the contrary, I believe talking to kids about poverty it’s a must if we want to raise them to be grateful for what they have and compassionate with those who are less fortunate.
That being said, as someone who grew up in poverty I believe it is crucial to tell them about people’s humanity while talking to kids about poverty. I want my kids to know that although people in poverty lack resources, that doesn’t mean they are perpetually sad, it is also teaching them that the way people live sometimes reflects their lack of schooling or knowledge in certain areas, but it doesn’t take away from their natural ability to be kind, generous and compassionate as well.
When I tell my kids about the long power outages people experience in the Dominican Republic, I make sure to tell them how that experience really looked like for me. I tell them how we had our routine in my family: as the outage happened, we’d get out of the house quickly because the heat was unbearable without a fan. Then, we either climbed up a shaky wood ladder and go to the roof with a few area rugs and pillows and lay there looking up to the stars and the moon on clear nights.
Mamá Amparo would tell us stories of her childhood in her tiny village of the small southern town of San Cristóbal, or she’d give us riddles to decipher. Other nights we would just sing to romantic ballads and recited poetry and décimas to let the night cool down before going to sleep. This is something we did often, and for many years, even when my grandma was older and it was hard for her to climb up the ladder.
Stories like this one help my children understand that while I was poor, I was loved and happy with my family. It also teaches them about being resourceful and finding ways to make the most out of unfavorable situations. It doesn’t victimize a person living in poverty, while still recognizing their struggle. Talking to kids about poverty has to be balanced and truthful and a topic that we should enter into with a clear message and also real knowledge of the experience.
For me, talking to kids about poverty is something personal because I don’t want them to fill pity about people living in poverty in general, I want them to recognize those people have lives, they love, they laugh, they dream in the same way that they do. I’ve experienced first hand how people in the developed world can have such a misguided view of the realities of the developing world. As the children of immigrants, I want my kids to be aware of the difference between lacking resources and being unhappy, or violent, or ignorant, and so many other negative qualities that are attached to poverty and the developing world.
Talking To Kids About Poverty In Our Own Backyard
Along with telling my children my own stories of living in poverty, I make them aware of less fortunate people around us. I want them to know that here is no superiority in having more money or things, and the fact that we do have electricity 24/7 (and the money to pay for the bill) doesn’t make us superior to those who are in different circumstances. If anything, it gives us the responsibility to care for what we have and be generous in our giving, not only of material things, but of love, kindness and empathy.
Many times, we our focus about the poverty in Africa and Latin America we create a vision of the United States as a place where everyone is rich or middle class. I think that prevents our children to connect with the realities in their communities and rob them from the opportunity of wanting to give back and get involved.
With hurricane Irma coming up through the Caribbean and Florida, there are going to be many images of people in dire situations. More often than not, the images will be of poor people suffering and struggling. This is a great opportunity to prompt your children to action and guide them so they can understand the situation for what it is. Encouraging generosity and empowering your children with the whole story of people in developing countries and here at home, it’s going to make them connect with people at a deeper level.
5 Quick Tips For Talking To Kids About Poverty
- Answer questions honestly and with empathy
- Initiate the conversation if your kids don’t ask you
- Encourage your children to come up with a plan to help
- Don’t avoid questions and be mindful of your body language
- Let your kids know about the actions you take to help those who are less fortunate
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker