How to talk to your kids about homelessness

November 8, 2017 Providence Health Team

With the number of homeless people in America hovering over half a million, now is as good a time as ever to start the conversation about homelessness with your child. Solving homelessness is a continuing issue, however, it’s worth helping your child understand why it happens and what they can do to help—regardless of whether it’s something they witness on a daily basis or not.

If your child has already raised questions about why someone might be living on the street, here are some pointers on how to broach the subject in a way they can absorb and reflect on it.

Consider their age

Children interpret and understand things in different ways depending on their age, so be sure to factor that into your conversation. For children under the age of six, keep your discussions or answers short and to the point—you may want to quell any worry or feelings of sadness by emphasizing that there is help available to homeless people. If your child is under the age of 12, encourage them to feel compassion and offer ways they can contribute to the solution, whether through future volunteering or building awareness. You can also discuss appropriate ways of communicating with those on the street.

Explain the complexities

There are many factors to consider when explaining why someone may be homeless. Some of the most common reasons why people end up living on the street are due to financial problems, poor lifestyle choices and even mental illnesses and disabilities. In fact, there were around 40,000 homeless veterans, most of whom had post-traumatic stress disorder, living in the United States in 2016. It’s worth discussing these factors with your child if they are curious to know why people become homeless in the first place.

Speak with compassion

The conversation around homelessness shouldn’t be one of pity. It should teach your child about empathy and caring for others. Answering questions about the subject might be tough, but try to remain positive and compassionate. Children often mimic adults, so remember to practice the same compassion when you encounter a homeless person in public.

Encourage your child to help

Even if your child doesn’t interact or help you give money directly to someone on the street, you can teach your child about the importance of giving back to the community by choosing a charity together or donating some of their old clothes or toys to a homeless child. There are many ways for your young one to give back locally, so be sure to do your research and find a program that lets you volunteer as a family.

Don’t perpetuate stereotypes

There are reasons for homelessness that we will never understand, and it’s important for your child to learn that at an early age. Not all homeless people have mental issues, and not all homeless people use the money to buy drugs or alcohol. Not buying into stereotypes is an important lesson for any child to learn as it shapes the way they develop and interact with others as adults.

Before you start the discussion with your child, do your part by educating yourself on homelessness, particularly veteran homelessness as we approach Veteran’s Day. Remember there are countless ways to help, so start today!

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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