This week Dixon Family Services had a visit from a Dixon Girl Scouts Troupe

Scout Leaders and Several Parents.

The troupe had arranged the first-ever postage stamp drive for our organization.  At the beginning of their visit I showed them a box full of stuffed envelopes we will soon be sending out to people and businesses to let them know about our upcoming annual fund raising event, Comedy Night.  I thanked them for their contribution and explained that something like stamps is a great example of a way anyone could help us reduce our “costs of doing business” so that we can use more of our revenue for helping people in our community in need of our services.

The girls were interested in why some people in Dixon need our services.  There was a question and short explanation about homelessness.  I explained as best I could at a level of their understanding.  I am usually talking to prospective grantors or donors and go into much more details about the lifelong consequences on children living in poverty like disparities in how children learnbehavioral problemsphysical problems like asthma, obesity, language development and increased risk of injury; mental health problems from the toxic stress associated with poverty; and overall well-being as studies show that poverty is the biggest threat to children’s well-being and can have lifelong affects.

Before our scheduled meeting and tour of Dixon Family Services (DFS) I looked on the internet “Ways to Discuss Poverty with Children”.  I wanted to keep in mind that I would be telling these elementary school children about services we provide for issues they might not understand or have ever even thought about.

Some of the things I read in articles on the subject of discussing poverty are worth repeating here to readers who also might have to explain poverty and its affects to their children.  There are situations that will spark their curiosity and it’s good to be prepared to give responses at a level appropriate for their age.

Holding conversations about poverty can be an opportunity to educate our children as well as time to foster compassion for others.  When a child understands a little more about why some people live differently, she/he may have more empathy for people who experience poverty.

An article suggested that rather than bring up the subject of poverty out of the blue, look for opportunities to bring it up naturally.  Be prepared for the tough questions.  At some point, your child will notice their peers are living in poverty.

They may ask you questions such as “Why does Suzy wear the same dress to school every day?”, “How come that woman is asking people for money?”, “Why isn’t that man wearing any shoes?”, or “Joey says he gets free lunch at school.  Why?”

When your child asks questions, it’s a sign they are ready for more information and it’s important to give age-appropriate responses.  Kids don’t understand money or economics.  A commercial about child hunger may spur an innocent question like “Why don’t their parents go to the grocery store and buy them more food?”  At ages between 5 and 8 kids are ready to hear a simple explanation like, “Some people aren’t able to earn enough money to buy food or a home to live in.”  No need for lengthy explanations about factors such as disabilities, substances, livable wages or a poor economy.

Conversations like that can usually wait until the Tweens or Teens.  They are probably ready to discuss factors that contribute to poverty such as the income gap between rich and poor people; lack of jobs that pay adequate wages; lack of education; high costs of healthcare and childcare; substance abuse and mental health; disabilities; divorce and other situations that can make it very hard for people to get out of poverty.

Some other important information I took away from the articles I read included how you talk to your children and things that you do will send a message about people living in poverty.  For example, if you walk past a panhandler without making eye contact, your child may assume homeless people are beneath you, so it’s important to explain why you don’t give strangers on the street money.  Say something like, “I don’t give people money because I’m not sure how they’ll spend it.  But I might buy them some food sometimes.”  Or, explain that you donate money to programs that help homeless people have food to eat and shelter to stay in.

Donating money to a charity may not teach your child much about helping others.  But, involving them first-hand in helping people in need could help them gain a better understanding of poverty.  We can all get our children involved by asking them to donate some of their toys or unused clothing to others whose parents may not be able to buy those things for their children.

Or when writing out a donation check tell them why you are doing it.  Bring your child when you are dropping things off to local charities.  When children see that they can take steps to make a difference, they may feel inspired to perform more acts of kindness in the future.

I am in my late 60’s but I can still remember my mom and dad doing volunteer work, helping our neighbors and sharing our extra fruits and vegetables with them when I was a very young girl.  I believe it is never too early to expose children to charitable acts.

I believe each of the girls and adults from that Girl Scout troupe who visited Dixon Family Services now have a much better understanding of why they even decided to have a postage stamp drive.  I really felt good about our visit and I think they all enjoyed it too.


Cookie Powell