Each year at this time, our family buys extra school supplies so we can assemble full backpacks for students in my husband’s school. We sponsor these students because my husband works in a district with more than 50% of its school population living in poverty.
A classmate was helping check off the third-grade list and put the items in a new backpack, and she asked my daughter, “Why are you doing this?”
My daughter responded with the message she’d heard from us over the years, “There’s a lot of poverty in the community where my dad works, so it’s hard for some families to buy school supplies.”
To which her friend innocently asked, “What’s poverty?”
We are so fortunate — in a community with relative affluence, leading lives that have never seen hunger or homelessness. It’s easy to forget that for some families nearby, these are chronic issues.
Search Institute has identified Caring and Equality and Social Justice as two of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.
While there are countless ways to become involved in worthwhile organizations, churches or social charities that help to improve the lives of those suffering socio-economically, many of these opportunities require more commitment than young families are willing to give. But that doesn’t mean we can’t open the discussion with our kids anyway. Children are naturally curious, so learning opportunities present themselves daily.
Rather than shielding our kids from witnessing poverty or ignoring questions, we can plant small seeds of truth which, over time, will accumulate to become understanding. Sometimes short statements or questions delivered in a matter-of-fact way open the way for larger discussions. You may even find your child is the one that calls your family to action as a result.
Try saying this:
• When your child sees a jobless man on the corner holding a cardboard sign, try saying, “Unfortunately, not all families have a warm home and steady income like we have.”
• When your child notices the food stamps used by the next woman in line, try discretely saying, “Sometimes the government helps families that have trouble paying for food.”
• When the boy at school never brings a snack, try asking, “I wonder if there’s a reason he’s not bringing snack?”
• When your child sees a commercial to sponsor a child overseas, ask, “What are some of the things here we can be grateful for?”
Try doing this:
• Ask your kids to help stock the local food pantry. Set an amount and let them do the shopping for canned and boxed goods.
• Attend an Empty Bowls event. When we went last year, our kids were so moved they pooled their charity money and returned a second time to donate it.
• Sponsor a student. Often the school counselor will have someone in mind. Just ask for the grade level and gender, pick up the school supply list and shop. It may just become an annual tradition you love.
• Participate in Blog Action Day on October 15. This year’s topic is poverty. You could share what you’ve done with your kids!
What do you do to inspire caring and social awareness in your kids?
Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.
Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.