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Future Is in Our Hands – How to Talk About Homelessness with Children

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Homelessness is a complex issue that affects many people in Toronto. As a parent, it can be difficult to explain the concept of homelessness to young children.

However, it is essential to have open and honest conversations about this issue, as it can help children develop empathy and compassion for those who are experiencing homelessness and living in poverty in our city.

Understand Your Own Perspective

To give your children the most well-informed direction, it is important to first consider your own beliefs regarding homelessness and poverty. How we approach and talk about these issues can shape our children’s understanding of them.

Take a moment to reflect on what you want your children to understand about homelessness and poverty, and how your family can help. This might involve volunteering your time or making financial contributions to an organization.

If you have questions yourself and would like to explore more about homelessness and poverty in Toronto, check out our blog. We cover a range of topics, including definitions, root causes, up-to-date statistics, and common misconceptions.

Two boys sibling brothers together in park, helps boy with roller skates to stand up after fall.

Keep it Age Appropriate

The language you use when talking about homelessness should align with your child’s age, maturity level, and understanding of the world around them.

Young children are unlikely to be able to understand concepts like poverty, economic and social inequalities, housing crisis, discrimination, and trauma – leading causes of homelessness, but they can understand the need to help people and not blame them for their circumstances. It is important to explain to children that homelessness is not a choice and can happen to anyone.

For example, for younger kids (ages 5-7), it may be best to focus on the basics like how homeless people need food, shelter, and clothing just like everyone else. For older kids (ages 8-11), adults can talk about how there may be underlying factors that contribute to a person becoming homeless such as loss of employment, mental health issues, or financial difficulties that make it challenging to pay for housing.

Be Honest & Open-Minded

When discussing homelessness with young children, it’s important to approach the conversation with honesty and an open-minded attitude. Kids are naturally curious, and they may have questions or concerns about what it means to be homeless. By providing honest answers without judgment or personal bias, you can help them better understand the issue and develop empathy toward those who are experiencing homelessness.

Encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings and listen to what they have to say. By doing so, you can help your child feel heard and validated, which can foster trust and open communication on sensitive topics in the future.

African male and his little son spend time together. They sit on the floor and chat

Address Misconceptions!

Children just like many adults may have misconceptions about homelessness, such as believing that it only affects adults or that people who are homeless are dangerous. These beliefs can arise from stereotypes in popular culture and social media portrayals of homelessness, which can be inaccurate and misleading.

Explain that homelessness can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or background. Help them understand that people who are homeless are not different from those who are not and that they deserve the same kindness and respect as everyone else.

Inspire Kindness & Empathy

It’s essential to teach children from a young age how they can make a positive impact on the world around them. Even small acts of kindness can have a significant impact on the lives of people experiencing poverty and homelessness.

To deepen children’s understanding of the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, parents can share stories of individuals who have overcome these difficulties, highlighting the importance of community and support. It is important to discuss the various ways parents and children can help those in need. Some examples include donating to Fred Victor or other charities, volunteering at local organizations, or organizing fundraising events at their school.

Encouraging children to treat everyone with kindness and compassion, regardless of their housing situation, can help foster a more caring and inclusive society.

It’s Up to Us – Grownups!

Discussing homelessness with children is crucial for building empathy and compassion toward those who are experiencing poverty and living without a home. By understanding our own perspective, tailoring the conversation to the child’s age, being honest and open-minded, and addressing any misconceptions, we can help our children become informed and caring members of society. We can inspire kindness and empathy by sharing stories of those who have overcome these challenges and discussing ways to help those who need it most.

Together, we can make a difference and create a brighter future for everyone.

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