From the Scholastic Bookshelf: How to Talk to Your Child About Poverty

Poverty is a complex topic, but discussing it is essential for your child’s understanding of the world.

Nov 30, 2021



From the Scholastic Bookshelf: How to Talk to Your Child About Poverty

Nov 30, 2021

At some point, the topic of poverty will surface in your household. It may begin as a question from your child: Why does so-and-so have this and we don’t? Why does this person get a free lunch at school? Answers will fall under the umbrella of money, who has it, and who doesn’t. 

Children are perceptive, and as they move in group settings from preschool to elementary school, they will begin to notice differences among their peers like socioeconomic status. They’ll bring to these environments the attitudes they see modeled at home. 

Each family handles conversations about income and wealth distribution differently. But bringing attention to the topic of poverty is important, as it impacts individuals around the world and touches all aspects of human life, from mental health to education. Discussing poverty with your child also lays a foundation for developing compassion and empathy, which are essential for healthy human connections.

For its 100th anniversary, Scholastic spoke with experts to identify a set of tips, articles and books that make starting a conversation with your child about poverty easier. These resources are part of a broader initiative, called the Scholastic Bookshelf, created for Instagram to raise awareness around contemporary issues affecting children today.

Here are tips for talking about poverty with your child. 

For more quick tips and book recommendations, sign up for our Scholastic Parents newsletter! 

Avoid stereotyping: Develop objective knowledge through reading.

Remember that when children ask questions, they are seeking information. Keep your answers honest. Guide them to reading material that addresses the situational causes of poverty — like jobs that don’t pay a livable wage, the high costs of living, generational poverty, regional factors — and steer clear of stereotyping. Avoid creating associations with poverty that suggest it is a choice of the individual or a consequence of laziness.

In “Out of Poverty,” an article in Junior Scholastic magazine, Rebecca Zissou introduces young readers to the concept of extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day and often without some combination of food, clothing, or shelter. We learn the number of individuals worldwide living in extreme poverty is about 700 million, with 75 percent residing in Africa and South Asia. That’s down more than half since 1990, when the total number was estimated at almost 2 billion. This progress is due largely to rising incomes, advancements in technology and medicine, and economic growth spurred on partly by government investment and humanitarian aid. 

The article shows it is possible to lift individuals out of extreme poverty through collective action. It concludes with mention of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals initiative aimed at ending extreme poverty by 2030.

“Extreme poverty is not inevitable, we can eradicate it,” says Nick Galasso of Oxfam, an international aid group. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we can get there.”

Show your child it’s possible to help.

You don’t need to travel the globe to learn about poverty. There are examples right here at home, and you can encourage your child to be part of the solution.

In “I Used to Be Hungry,” we meet Draven Schoberg, for whom meals were not a guaranteed part of the day growing up. Schoberg was one of 11.2 million kids and teens estimated to be living in food-insecure households today.

Studies show that without proper nutrition, children suffer physically and mentally, especially at school.

While charitable programs exist to serve students in this position, experts say challenges include a reliance on donations and a reluctance on the children’s behalf to accept help — especially among older kids.

“When you’re a teenager, you’re at a point in your life where everything is changing,” Schoberg tells Junior Scholastic. “But when you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, it’s a whole other level of awful.”

Schoberg’s situation improves after she moves into a food-secure household. She now volunteers her time to food-relief organizations such as No Kid Hungry and the Texas Hunger Initiative. Another one of her projects pairs free meals with social activities for kids, which experts recommend as a strategy for encouraging teens to accept help in a stigma-free environment.

“I know how hard it is to be so focused on where your next meal is coming from,” Schoberg says. “It can make you feel like you’re the only one who’s going through something like this. But I want them to know that it’s going to get better.”

If your child wants to know ways they can help those living in poverty, use Draven’s story as a jumping-off point. Suggest donating to a local food bank or volunteering at relief organizations in your community.

Quell anxiety by being open about your family’s situation.

During your family’s discussions about poverty, your child may experience anxious feelings or insecurity around the “what-if”s of your financial situation. Depending on their age, you can reassure them by explaining the protections you do have in place against sudden life events, like a loss of income. Or you can simply say that should anything happen, you’ll be there for them.

Use your discretion in revealing details about the impacts of poverty — too much information can be traumatizing. But if your child gets emotional as they learn about the world, that’s okay. It’s a sign they are developing empathy, which is necessary for forming healthy interpersonal relationships. 

Being informed about heavy topics has other positive outcomes, such as the desire to create change.

The story of Charlette Leurs in Scholastic Action magazine (“I Beat the Odds”) is an inspiring one to share with your child. Leurs grew up in a poor neighborhood in New York City, with not enough money in the household to pay for food and rent. But she had optimism, the support of her family, and a dream of attending college. By taking charge of the things in her life she could control, like studying and focusing on her goals, Leurs successfully applies and is accepted to a university — with a basketball scholarship to boot.

Stories like Leurs’ are important reading for dialogues about poverty, not only because they describe real-life situations close to home but because they attach meaning to the concepts of hope, determination, and possibility.

Be sure to visit the Scholastic Bookshelf for more resources on poverty and other must-discuss topics.

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