It breaks my heart to know that 2,500 students in the Beaverton School District are homeless. I’m so pleased that our school district partners with Family Promise to help end family homelessness.
Most of the students at JAMS have more than they need, but they are likely to know that some peers are not as blessed. The question is, what do you tell your child when they ask “Why is that kid on the streets?”
It’s a difficult conversation to have with children.
A Few Talking Points
1. The first thing you should do is wait for your kids to bring it up. Then take into account the age of the child. One kid could be at an age when they are ready to have an in-depth discussion. They want to hear talking points that are both literal and figurative.
Other kids are at an age that they want the discussion to be simple and sweet. That could be for a few reasons, including the subject matter is too painful for them. Either way, you need to gear the discussion to the age of the child.
2. Use empathy and sadness to convey the situation. The only time you should express sympathy is if you have been there yourself.
You might have spent some time on the street, too. Talk to your kids about that. Letting your kids know that you were once homeless is a good way to illustrate how tough it is.
You should never show your child judgment about the situation. The simple truth is that it is not always the person’s fault that they are homeless. Sometimes the tragedy comes from extenuating circumstances that have nothing to do with the person. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
This is a teachable moment. Teach your child to withhold judgment and show more compassion for others.
Explain to your child that anyone can end up like that. It is a way to make your child think about his or her actions in the future.
3. Pay close attention to your kid’s facial expressions and body language. How much are they understanding? What do they need more help with?
The face could show interest and concern, but the body could be fidgety and restless. Ask your child why they feel so restless about this discussion. Kids pick up on negative vibes before the positive ones. Talk to your child about how they are feeling as you discuss homelessness.
Say, for example, that your older child is feeling restless because they know that homelessness relates to bigger issues like addiction. Encourage them to talk about it.
The more open and honest a discussion you have on homelessness, the more your child will learn about the problem.
4. Your kids are much smarter than you sometimes give them credit for and you might have an unexpected question. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them.
The idea is not to avoid the question. You cannot cherry-pick the questions you want to answer. Your child is going to see through that and will wonder why you do not want to answer a specific question. He or she might feel you are hiding something from them.
This discussion needs to be as honest as you can make it, keeping in mind the age of your children.
5. What happens if and when your child wants to know the answer to: “How can I help a homeless child?” There are ways that your kids can help.
Do they have any old toys they are no longer using? Tell them to donate old toys to a charity that serves homeless families. They could also take the money they have and buy news toys for some homeless children. You can drive them to the local donation center and allow them to give their donations to the staff working there. I have done that many times.
Donating money is an option, but it could be too abstract for the younger kids. Wait until they old enough to understand how donating money works.
6. Your kids might start to panic after you explain homelessness to them. Your child might even cry and worry about someone not having a place to go. You need to assure them that there are people and organizations that will take care of them. Create an action plan of how your family can help others and be sure you carry it out.
Your child might also begin to worry that they themselves could become homeless. Assure them that you will always take care of them and that being homeless does not mean being alone. Make sure they understand that many of the charities serving the homeless are committed to keeping families together until something can be done to get each family back into their own home.
The idea is to help them see that a homeless family is simply a family in need of a little more help right now.
Visit this site for more details on how to explain homelessness to a child.
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