I remember the day well. My husband and I took our kids for a fun day in Pittsburgh, complete with the zoo and a fun splash pad area. We had a lovely dinner and decided to take a walk. As we strolled along the river, a man laid across a bench, sound asleep, with his items scattered. My kids expressed concern and began to ask questions.
Related: At This Dividing Time, I Choose Kindness
For a long time, we avoided the topic of homelessness with our kids. Our children wanted to understand, and I saw their empathy. Many parents opt to ignore these questions, thinking our kids are too young to understand. While they might be too young to understand the extensiveness behind the issues, kids of all ages can show empathy.
Here are some ways you can talk about homelessness with your kids:
1. Answer Their Questions with Honesty
A man sleeping on the streets or a family without a home is concerning, and children may not understand. Explain to your kids that these individuals don't have a home. Chances are you don't understand why, so be honest! A deep conversation isn't always necessary, but some older kids may have more in-depth questions.
2. Show Empathy
Life is difficult without a home. You don't have access to a shower or a place to get a good night's rest. That doesn't change who that person is nor does it change the value of that person's life. Lack of housing doesn't mean the person is less valuable. Show your children that with your words and how you speak about those who are homeless.
Related: 7 Ways to Be Kind To HumanKind
3. Volunteer Together
Put everything together and show your children that a homeless person is valued. Find a place to volunteer in your town. There are dozens of examples. You might volunteer to make sandwiches to be left outside in a cooler at night. Perhaps you can make a few casseroles for Thanksgiving. Take your kids down to spend some time with kids at the shelters, coloring and playing cars.
4. Don't Use Homelessness to Instil Fear
You will immediately negate your empathy if you use homelessness as a teaching moment. It might be easy to point out someone on the streets and say "that is why you need good grades" or "that is why you should never do drugs." While we want our kids to get good grades and to avoid drug use, every homeless person is unique, and we should never generalize them. Don't use these moments to instill fear; use them to show grace, love, humility, and empathy.
Every homeless person you see is just like you. They need love, food, connections, and friends.